Friday, February 09, 2007


I've been wondering why it's so acceptable for movies about
ancient Rome to feature actors/actresses with British accents.
Not only accepted, but expected.

Understandably, films made for an English-speaking audience should preferably be in English. If not, then in the language spoken by the country/time period in which the film is set - with English subtitles, of course. Mel G. did this quite effectively in 'The Passion'.

What accent, then, for Ancient Rome? Is there a Latin accent?!?
If there were still native Latin speakers, would their spoken English hint more of Italian than 'The Queen's English' or Heaven Forbid Cockney?

I don't doubt that it's a tough call.
But please, don't hand me Manchester-accented English in a film about Ancient Rome and expect me not to cringe...

HBO's 'Rome' is the worst offender.
Based loosely on world history, this series has proven wildly popular. Not for the educational angle but for generous heapings of blood and gore and exploiting the worst of human foilables. There's plenty of man's inhumanity to man (bitchy women get equal time). Naked bodies slipping into Roman baths. Sweaty sex. The dialog in 'Rome' is liberally laced with swearing, which is not quite as endearing here as it is in another much-loved HBO series (shameless plug for 'Deadwood'.

The British accents in 'Rome' are so so so very distracting.
Some of them are positively Limey Several scenes set in a Roman drinking establishment had the characters sounding more like they were at the corner pub throwing back pints and discussing football. They peppered their dialog with 'eh whot' 'mate' and (Heaven Forbid) HubbyDear swears he heard someone say 'sawry, mum'.

That just ain't right.

Another example: Michael Caine is a marvelous actor, but in his role as an ex-pat Frenchman in 'The Statement' (2003), Caine delivered lines in Limey Blimey accent. As always, Caine did a great acting job - but as a Frenchman who spied for the Nazis, couldn't he have sounded just a little bit French or hinted ever-so-slightly of German? Instead, he was out and out Eliza Doolittle. I could barely stand it.

Like, 'What's Wrong With This Picture?!?'


justducky said...

For me, Mel Gibson can speak in any old accent he wants!

He can just leave out the booze and bigotry and bring on the charm...

Anonymous said...

i think it's the english just getting back at the romans for, shall we say, their dropping in for an uninvited lengthy stay? :)
however, everything always sounds so much more legitmate and intelligent, (well maybe not when spoken in the cockney accent)...when spoken in the brit's english. better ancient romans having english accents, then the following.
last night i started to watch jason and the argonauts, a recent version with dennis hopper. i love this type of movie, so i settle in to watch, when all of a sudden the phrase 'in cahoots', is used! what???? i had no idea this phrase was used in ancient times! it sounds so NY to me! it left a sour taste with in my mouth, so i turned it off. curiosity got the better of me and decided to search the net for the origins of this phrase. well from what i could find, 'in cahoots', is not a phrase commonly found outside the USA! so how it traveled to ancient greek mythology is beyond me.
so, i'd rather hear english accents, in period pieces, than to have modern colloquialisms used anyday.
i do agree with you on this point. even though i have not seen the movie you spoke of with michael caine, however, knowing his distinctive voice and accent, he should have toned it down and sounded more european, if he couldn't pull off a french accent. that annoys me...people who do really bad impressions of accents other than their own...


baffle said...

'In cahoots' - that's a good one!
I would have abandoned watching that movie for the same reason.

A teacher I had in junior high school walked out of Zefferelli's 'Romeo and Juliet' when he heard the actor playing Romeo utter his first lines in Cockney English. I didn't see any problem, but just look at me now - Little Ms. Curmudgeon. Even Mel with his extracurricular antics - can bug the 'ell outta me, when once upon a time, I too was goo-goo eyed over him...

Ornery often defines this getting older and wiser stuff, eh?

Anonymous said...

if you haven't seen the illusionist, it's a must see movie. very good. original story for a change. so, this morning i watched the directors' cut and the director touched on the same subject you mentioned here. the movie takes place in 1900 vienna, so he had the actors speak with viennese (sp?) accents rather then the 'default english accent,as seen in countless movies that are set in ancient rome...' to give his movie more authenticity. and on turner classic movie channel, tony curtis was speaking about cary grant, and how no one ever questioned his very british accent, though he played an american in so many of his roles, and obviously spoke differently from the rest of the cast. so, i guess it's all a matter of how easily you can escape the belivability factor and just go with the flow, even when phrases like 'in cahoots' is used.


baffle said...

In many a 1930's and 40's Hollywood film, the actors seemed to adapt a hard-to-identify accent which sounded suspiciously British; but then again not quite.

'Oh dahling, wherevah have you bean? Come dahnce with me. I nevah imagined we could be soooo heppy'.

Whoa! Tony Curtis - he used his Bronx accent in some movie where he was a gladiator....?