SNARK WEEK: Top 9 Crappy Accents in Historical Costume Movies

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One of the reasons we watch historical costume movies is to feel transported back in time — just to get that sense, if for an hour or two, that we’ve traveled to a historical place and are seeing a bit of history relived. That’s why stuff like zippers and metal grommets and modern hairstyles bug us, because they take us out of the moment and ruin the historical illusion.

So does a crappy accent. Sometimes, even more than a bad costume! Everything can look beautifully historically accurate, and then someone opens their mouth and brays out in a voice that totally doesn’t fit. The film has introduced the main character as Irish but his voice is all New Joisey, or the TV miniseries is an adaption of an English novel and all but ONE character’s accent is English. Dude, not cool.

For Snark Week, let’s get an earful — where we can, thanks to YouTube — of the worst accents in historical costume movies and TV shows…

 

9. Nicolas Cage in Captain Corelli’s Mandolin (2001)

For an Italian American, Cage has a pretty weak Italian accent as the captain with the musical instrument in this lightweight World War II romance. Stick to the action flicks, Nick.

 

8. Sean Connery in The Name of the Rose (1986)

Every movie Sean Connery is in, he has a Scottish brogue. He can be playing James Bond, a Russian submarine captain in The Hunt for Red October (1990), King Arthur in First Knight (1995), or Robin Hood in Robin and Marian (1976). Ironically, Connery’s character in Highlander (1986) — a movie about a Scotsman — was Spanish. So I’m just picking one of his many wrong-accent roles and one of his best historical costume movies, IMO. The Name of the Rose is set in the 14th century, and Connery is supposed to be the nominally English William of Baskerville, a Franciscan friar. Watch it for the great story — it’s neither Scottish, nor crap!

 

7. Julia Roberts in Mary Reilly (1996)

An accent so bad, the inconsistency of it was remarked upon in IMDB. This YouTube vid is all about Michael Sheen (huh?), but it’s a pretty good showcase for Roberts’ on-and-off-again Irish accent. Honorable mention to her poorly accented turn as the sweetheart of Irish freedom fighter Michael Collins the eponymous 1996 flick.

 

6. Keanu Reeves in Much Ado About Nothing (1993)

The movie is set in an vague historical period in a random part of Tuscany. But at least Denzel Washington could rustle up a fancy English / Shakespearean accent to blend in with pros like Kenneth Branagh and Emma Thompson. Poor Keanu can’t hack it. Honorable mention goes to Keanu’s role in Dangerous Liaisons (1988), where had about five inappropriately surfer-dude lines, but nobody’s stuck a clip on YouTube.

 

5. Audrey Hepburn in My Fair Lady (1964)

She’s the epitome of grace and beauty, so hearing Audrey Hepburn’s redonkulous attempt at a Cockney accent is cray-cray. Yes, the point is that the character’s a guttersnipe who’ll be taught to speak properly, but overkill much?

 

4. Nicole Kidman and Tom Cruise in Far and Away (1992)

I can’t decide who has the worst Irish accent in this preposterous story of two mismatched 19th-century Irish immigrants to America. It varies from scene to scene depending on who’s doing more talking. Basically, I just want them both to shut up. It’s worse when you hear them next to actual Irish actors like Colm Meany.

 

3. Kenneth Branagh in Wild Wild West (1999)

English actors can often do better American accents than vice versa, and Branagh did a very good one in 1991’s Dead Again. But here, as Confederate madman Dr. Arliss Loveless in this post-Civil War / pre-steampunk romp, Kenneth Branagh just can’t manage a Southern drawl. It’s almost as bad as Will Smith’s cheezy rap song that the movie ends with.

 

2. Dick van Dyke in Mary Poppins (1964)

On Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me, Dick Van Dyke blamed his terrible Cockney accent in this practically perfect musical on his vocal coach. He claimed that Irish-born J. Pat O’Malley had an even worse accent. I’m crying foul.

 

1. Keanu Reeves in Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992)

It’s Ted “Theodore” Logan: Vampire Hunter! Duuuuude, where’s my vampire bride? He’s totally gonna go to Transylvania and find that bad guy. Whoaaaaaaa…

 

What’s the worst accent in a historical costume movie or TV show in your opinion? Find #10 on YouTube and share in the comments!

 

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About the author

Trystan L. Bass

Twitter Website

A self-described ElderGoth, Trystan has been haunting the internet since the early 1990s. Always passionate about costume, from everyday office wear to outrageous twisted historical creations, she has maintained some of the earliest online costuming-focused resources on the web. When she’s not dressing up in costumes, she can be found traveling the world with her sweetie and, occasionally, Kendra and Sarah. Her costuming and travel adventures are chronicled on her website, TrystanCraft. She also maintains a popular fashion blog, This Is CorpGoth, dedicated to her “office drag.”

63 Responses

  1. MoHub

    I’d switch the 1 and 2 positions. For me, Dick Van Dyke’s accent in Mary Poppins is the standard by which all fake accents should be judged.

    Reply
  2. Karen

    Every time I see Keanu Reeves, in my head I hear “Cawfax Abbay” and I lose my mind…laughing…

    Reply
  3. pandaemonaeum

    To be fair, Winona Rider’s accent in Dracula was totally crap as well, and it was probably the worst performance I’ve ever seen Anthony Hopkins turn in. The bit where Winona is trying to call the winds in the Transylvanian mountains makes me cringe every time.

    Reply
  4. Stephani

    LOL! See, but, I think Keanu’s horrible overacting and bad accent just play up the character’s role as a bad guy. You just know he’s the type to tie a lady to a railroad track. But I know I’m probably in the minority on that. Poor kid. Just outclassed on all fronts in that film.

    Reply
  5. Rene

    Kevin Costner’s wretched (and fleeting) accent in “Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves” kept us laughing for hours back in the day.

    Reply
  6. Julia

    I feel like Keanu Reeves slips into to amazing movies just to surfer boy them up. I don’t think Winona Rider is much better, her accent in Dracula is cringe worthy in a lot of places.

    Reply
    • robintmp

      Or, as a former roommate of mine once put it while watching, “Jesus, girl, that accent! Pick a part of England and stick with it!” Honestly, Keanu’s accent bothered me a lot less than hers did, and at least he had the decency to step back and give a fairly restrained performance, letting everyone else chew the scenery (and boy oh boy, did they ever!).

      Reply
  7. Susan Pola

    Sean Connery gets, in my opinion, a pass on his accent in his films for all his swoonability. He Franciscan friar was convincing. And his reaction to finding the hidden library makes my bibliophile heart proud.

    Did you know the studio castes Audrey in MFL bc she was a name? Julie Andrews, created roll on stage and was considered unbankable as an unknown. MFL loss and Poppins gain. She won Oscar for Poppins. I’ve heard they should have used both. Julie to play guttersnipe and Audrey from ball to end.

    You forgot Tony Curtis in his swashbuckling medieval characters. (Da castle uf my father)

    Reply
    • Trystan L. Bass

      Yes, and poor Audrey was dubbed for the singing!

      I’d have included more bad accents like Tony Curtis, but I couldn’t find video clips — and a bad accent must be heard to be appreciated :)

      Reply
      • MoHub

        Hepburn didn’t even have enough musicality to even make it look as if she was actually singing. Those of us who do sing always get a laugh watching how Audrey’s not fooling anyone.

        And poor Marni Nixon, who dubbed everyone, made a whole career of being everyone else’s voice and got no screen credit.

        Reply
        • Donna S.

          She did appear as on of the nuns in “The Sound of Music” – and she did get paid!

          Reply
        • Donna S.

          Sean Connery as the Raisuli in “The Wind and the Lion,” not even trying for anything other than a Scottish burr. But sooooooo macho!

          Reply
  8. kproche

    I have been waiting for Reeve’s Harker to turn up I your column. My life is now tha t much more complete.

    I’d be tempted to ponder which is worse in. The film, his accident or the infamous accidentally transparent garden party dress, but the dress only appears in that one scene, while his bad accent is inflicted upon us for the entire film.

    Reply
    • kproche

      And I’ve only now noticed the hack job my iPad’s stooooopid autocorrect did in my comment. I can only hope you presumed that was the problem.

      (Note, however, that it is perfectly happy with “stooooopid.” Stupid autocorrect. )

      Reply
  9. Adam Lid

    Poor Keanu, even hanging out with Dracula’s babes couldn’t turn around that performance…to me, the worst accent ever was John Wayne in The Conqueror- I still crack up when I hear “Come along Tartar Woman…” spoken only as John Wayne can do it. I was waiting for “Fill your hands…”

    Reply
  10. Kelly F

    One of my favorite things about Borgia (Canal+) was that there was zero effort to have consistent accents. Even among one family. Then again they shouldn’t be speaking English in the first place so I’ll role with it.

    BUT then they did the wrap-up scenes with the actors as themselves telling you what happened, and you find out the guy who plays Ceasere is IRISH. I really wish he’d just gone with that the whole time. Irish!Rouge Ceasere with a twinkle in his eye really would have made that series.

    Reply
  11. Lady Hermina De Pagan

    I’m suurprised you did not include Ben Afleck’s bad accent in Shakspeare in Love. Even Gwen Paltrow did a servicable job, so he stands out even more.

    Reply
  12. Danielle

    Drew Barrymore in Ever After. That accent is soooo fake it’s cringey!!
    And the guy who plays Gerald O’Hara’s terrible Irish accent in Gone With The Wind! Makes me laugh every time! :)

    Reply
  13. Michael McQuown

    So many choices, so little time. I give it to Wayne in “The Conqueror” hands down. Not to mention the verbiage: Susan Hayward saying something like “Does Temujin quench his fire with ice?” They don’t write ’em like that anymore. The movie may have been bad for careers, but it may also have contributed to real deaths, as the film site had been used for A-tests. Several of the cast members died of cancer.
    BTW — it’s “Scottish burr” and “Irish brogue.”

    Reply
  14. lizhamillscott

    I’ll nominate David Boreanaz’s attempts at an Irish accent in the “Angel’s history” scenes from Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel. Faith and beggorah, that guy’s from America!

    Reply
      • Lady Hermina De Pagan

        Which is funny because I know oddles of people in the pirate community that do wonderful irish, Scottish, English, Spanish, and Australian accents. I practiced mine by watching loads of Ruth Goodman docuseries on BBC. It’s not rocket surgery…:)

        Reply
      • aelarsen

        Well, the film never explicitly says he’s British. But his name is Denis Finch-Hatton, for god’s sake. And Finch-Hatton was British.

        Reply
        • Alluria

          Yes, he was and an aristo! And simply why can’t they make a film about Beryl Markham? Her autobiographical, “West with the Night”, is unforgettable! She broke so many early flight records and had a morbid premonition during Finch-Hatton’s demise.

          Reply
    • Alluria

      Being originally from a rural area in the south, I confess I knew quite a few gents with Branaugh’s accent – to a T!

      But others that didn’t make the list –

      Demi Moore in The Scarlet Letter,

      Natalie Portman in The Other Boleyn Girl, (And god anything she does like V for Vendetta)

      and Colin Farell whenever he doesn’t get to use his own.

      Reply
  15. Liutgard

    I’m not sure than Keanu’s accent in Much Ado was all that bad. The slow, measured, almost dead (flat?) tone sort of fit the role, to my view. His work in Dracula though… particularly against a master like Gary Oldman. He come across like an insecure high school kid who’s worried about his first big role. _So_ stilted.

    But it’s Winona that drives me nuts. Her ‘English’ accent- again, stilted, amateurish And her attempts at the Romanian? Dear God. Especially shrieking to the winds. Didn’t they have a voice coach in the building? Was there no director behind the cameras?

    Reply
    • hsc

      “But it’s Winona that drives me nuts. Her ‘English’ accent- again, stilted, amateurish And her attempts at the Romanian? Dear God. Especially shrieking to the winds.”

      That was supposed to be Romanian??? Anyway, we immediately started calling that line she yelled “Hoopty Doopty Doo Dakkor!!”

      “Didn’t they have a voice coach in the building?”

      Michaela Bercu (born in Israel to Romanian parents) and Florina Kendrick (Romanian) were two of the brides and reportedly “helped others with their accents”, but clearly some things are beyond help.

      “Was there no director behind the cameras?”

      Not one that gave a sh!t about a faithful adaptation of Stoker or anything resembling reality.

      I saw “Francis Ford Coppola’s Barnabas Collins” on opening day with a packed audience that laughed at it all the way through, particularly the costumes.

      Reply
  16. washingtoncube

    Thank gawd someone said Kevin Costner in Robin Hood because that one is so cringe worthy you can’t even last with it. Winona’s normal speaking voice drives me crazy as well. Way too nasally. I’m amazed she hasn’t sought out a voice coach over time. Tony Curtis in anything.

    Reply
  17. Michael McQuown

    All this brings up a question that has plagued me for years: why is it that so many American actors and actresses will work so diligently on their techniques and their physiques, and yet neglect their voice, the instrument by which most information and emotion is transmitted? I’m sick of adult women who sound like 12-year-olds and the almost universal denasality, followed by the uptick at the end of a sentence that makes it sound more like a question. Not to mention the constant irrelevant insertion of the word ‘like’ into their speech. Listen to the British and Australians: their voices are warm, resonant, and pleasing to the ear..

    Reply
    • Trystan L. Bass

      There’s been a lot written about upspeak & vocal fry in modern speech. I haven’t noticed it infiltrating period pieces *too* much *yet* — but I don’t doubt that we’re on the edge of the cliff!

      Reply
  18. Rebecca Maiten

    The accents (or lack there of) in Marie Antoinette made me really hate that movie at first. I definitely don’t hate the movie as a whole anymore, but the lack of accents still annoys me. I mean, couldn’t she have tried for something?

    Reply
    • Sarah Lorraine

      I seem to recall that Sophia Coppola specifically had the actors perform with their natural accents, but I can’t remember if that was for some artistic vision-y reason, or just because half the cast was British and half was American and getting one to sound like the other was going to be an utter nightmare. It took some getting used to, but now it’s something I kind of enjoy about the over all quirkiness of the film.

      Also, the scene where Marie Antoinette and her daughter Marie Therese are frolicking in a field of flowers, and the little girl (who can’t be more than 4) is speaking French and Kirsten Dunst is speaking English and there’s this great moment where Kirsten points out something and says the English word for it and the little girl looks at her like “WTF are you saying? Are you stupid? That is clearly abeille not a ‘bee’ you moron. Christ, I’m going to have to teach you to speak properly, aren’t I?” and she goes on and starts pointing out flowers and what not and giving the proper FRENCH names. It’s a cute little throw-away scene but it’s always charmed me.

      Reply
  19. Michael McQuown

    The accent question is tricky: do you try for all your cast to attempt a foreign accent to fit a foreign setting, or do you simply have them all speaking uniform English and let the audience assume it’s French, or whatever. Some actors are good at accents and some aren’t, so I think the latter is the safer course.

    Reply
  20. drush76

    All this brings up a question that has plagued me for years: why is it that so many American actors and actresses will work so diligently on their techniques and their physiques, and yet neglect their voice, the instrument by which most information and emotion is transmitted?

    Why are you dumping this all on Americans? What about the countless number of British actors who resort to using New York accents straight from a Warner Bros. gangster film all the time? Or use that flat, transatlantic accent that they call American?

    American actors are not the only ones who don’t bother to use a foreign accent. With the few exceptions like Tom Cruise and German actors like Thomas Kretschmann and Christian Berkel, most of the cast for “VALKYRIE” were British. And since no one born outside of Continental Europe could do a decent German accent, director Bryan Singer had them speak in their own accents.

    Reply
    • Sarah Lorraine

      Tangentially, this is why I created the tag “Inexplicably British” for films that are set in some completely non-British time/place and yet all the actors have British accents. Also, very few Brits can get their tongues convincingly around an American accent. Minnie Driver and Hugh Laurie are two of the best when it comes to convincing American accents, but the rest just sound hilariously nasal, or vaguely Canadian. And never let Eddie Izard play an American. He’s notoriously shitty at any accent that isn’t his own, but his American one is SO cringeworthy.

      Reply
    • Michael McQuown

      There are two different issues here. One is the lack of voice training among American actors; the other is the use of foreign accents. My first point is that American and half of the Canadian actors sound like crap compared to British and Down Under actors and the other half of the Canadians. Facility with foreign accents seems to be almost innate. My 2nd ex was a little too good at acquiring them 10 mins with someone with a marked accent and she took it home, sometimes whether she wanted to or not. Some people just can’t do them at all.

      Reply
  21. Elusis

    Nothing, absolutely nothing, beats Peter Dinklage as Tyrion in “Game of Thrones.” It’s like he’s chewing on taffy and doing a terrible Alan Rickman impersonation at the same time. It’s gotten to the point that my partner and I can barely watch one of his scenes without giving each other the side-eye and cracking up.

    I mean.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ois_9HGsfkU

    “You mieet as weeel keeel me heyuhhhh.” Oh god just STOP.

    Reply
  22. Liesl

    I would like to add, for consideration, Cameron Diaz in Gangs of New York. I’m still not sure what accent she was supposed to have, as it changes every other scene.

    Reply

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