66 thoughts on “SNARK WEEK: Top 9 Crappy Accents in Historical Costume Movies

  1. 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.

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

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

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

    1. Costner didn’t even try. But in Men in Tights, it allowed Cary Elwes to say he was the real Robin Hood because “Unlike other Robin Hoods, I can speak with an English accent.” And for that, I will always be grateful to Mr. Costner.

    2. Apparently he wanted to do an English accent and was told that his real accent was part of the oh-so sexy(!) Costner package, and the director made him keep it…

  6. 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.

    1. 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!).

  7. 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)

    1. 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 :)

      1. 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.

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

  8. 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.

    1. 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. )

  9. 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…”

  10. 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.

  11. 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.

  12. 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! :)

  13. 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.”

  14. 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!

      1. 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…:)

        1. It’s a little easier to practice at a festival or an event. It’s another to capture it convincingly on film. I admire anyone who can effectively mimic accents :).

      2. I may be a bit late on this conversation, but there’s one American actor who did a fantastic Northern Irish accent – Ben Schnetzer in “Pride”.

      1. 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.

        1. 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.

    1. 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.

  15. 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?

    1. “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.

  16. 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.

  17. 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..

    1. 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!

  18. 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?

    1. 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.

  19. 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.

  20. 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.

  21. 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.

  22. 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.


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

  23. 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.

  24. I nominate Ewan McGregor in Big Fish. Despite being an accentless southerner myself, I can clock a bad attempt a mile away, and his was atrocious. When it wasn’t jumping all over the region, it occasionally lapsed into straight-up British. On the line “…we’d worked out a whole new routine with a ukulele and a harmonica,” he sounded like a half-hearted John Lennon impersonator.

  25. The Tony Curtis movie, I think, was either The Prince Who Was A Thief, or Ali Baba because the whole line is” “Yondah is da castle of my fodda da Caliph.” A friend of mine’s mother met Curtis on a plane. He asked her out, but she turned him down because she dated only Jewish boys. HOO boy! When she found out!
    Back to the voice issue, a lot of American problems stem from their misunderstanding of Stanislavsky. By the time the young actors came to him, they had already had speech, diction and movement; he was teaching a master class; over here, they were taking in raw actors and giving them the emotional access without the grounding One of the actor-managers I worked with had met a group from the Moscow Arts Theatre, who were shocked at the reverence in which Stanislavsky was held. One said in amazement, “You treat him like god!”

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