Warning: This is peeve post. There, now, full steam ahead.
There’s a new contender for Worst British Accent in Film, the award previously held over decades by Dick Van Dyke, that lovable pseudo-Cockney of Mary Poppins. Considering that everyone else in that film was actually British (including Julie Andrews, its star), and the book it was based on was set in London and written by an author living in that city (though she grew up in Australia), why the producers decided on an American chimney sweep is unfathomable. I’m not suggesting that they ought to have sought out Lawrence Olivier, but at least Sir Larry would have done justice to the Bow Bells accent.
The new mangler? Anne Hathaway.
Now, I like Anne Hathaway as much as any woman whose daughter adored The Princess Diaries. She’s a very good actress with much natural grace, and she’s made amazing choices in her films. She was wonderful opposite Meryl Streep in The Devil Wears Prada – an intimidating turn, after all. Playing a much-rehabbed sister of the bride in Rachel Getting Married was a risky choice that paid off fabulously. I look forward to seeing her as Catwoman in The Dark Night Rises.
But as an English student? In One Day? When everyone – and I don’t use that word loosely – everyone surrounding her is some kind of Brit?
It’s not like the UK is devoid of female actors of the appropriate age. Emily Blunt, Keira Knightley, Rosamund Pike, Carey Mulligan, any one of them could have done a great job with One Day’s Emma. But no, the producers needed greater wattage, so the job went to Hathaway. Who does terrific stuff with it, she really does, only . . . where the hell is the woman supposed to be from?
The accent doesn’t have multiple layers. Instead, it lurches from one set of sounds to another. At times she’s perfectly American, this supposedly English rose Emma. At times she does a decent, upperclass RP accent. Then there’s the sudden left turn to Scots or Northumberland, as when she says “oot” for “out”.
(I happen to live in a part of the country where oldtimers do this, too, only in a southern US accent. It’s a hoot.)
Her R’s are similarly wobbly, and at times she sound positively West Country. No sooner do you get used to one set of sounds than, oops, there it goes again, the amazing Technicolor accent.
I am all for Anne Hathaway or another actor, or any person, for all that, going after a role as a challenge. They should stretch. Try something completely different.
But if the producers are too cash-strapped to afford accent lessons before the shoot, actors need to reserve some funds for to invest in their own accent. They’ll pay off, they really will.
In some future post, British actors assuming – and that word is used very loosely – American accents. With a reminder that Jimmy Cagney’s been off the screen for a long, long time.