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British accents

British accents BBC character

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#1 bwheeler

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Posted 23 March 2012 - 01:57 PM

Hi, I am a BBC journalist.

I'm writing a piece for the website on why all of the characters in Game of Thrones, and many other TV and film adaptations of fantasy literature, speak with modern-day British accents - even if, as in the case of GoT, some of the actors playing them are American.

Is the British accent now the default-setting for this kind of material? And, if so, why?

Are there any examples of "fantasy" on film and television where American or other accents have been used? Does it work?

I'd welcome any thoughts you have on this subject - I may use your quotes in my piece, so let me know if you have a problem with that.


Thanks!


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#2 Xray the Enforcer

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Posted 25 March 2012 - 08:48 PM

I'm pretty woefully ignorant of non-book fantasy, so I will defer to those who have more first-hand knowledge. Good luck on your article. /smile.png' class='bbc_emoticon' alt=':)' />

#3 Weak With The Dawn

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Posted 25 March 2012 - 09:46 PM

The only two fantasy settings I can recall that used American accents were the shows Hercules and Xena. I suppose you could include Buffy and True Blood in that, but those are more modern settings with fantasy elements.

Otherwise, your assessment seems dead on. Just about anything aired here in the states with a ancient fantasy setting is pretty much expected to contain British accents.

From what I can tell, it seems that many of the initial works that inspired the fantasy setting came from English authors, such as Tolkien, which probably colored the language in a similar fashion for anyone inspired to write in the same genre.

I can't speak for how it may be viewed in other countries but I think there's also mentality in the states that, anything dating that far back in history, especially anything in a feudal setting would sound British.

There are many American accents that I believe would sound jarring in a medieval fantasy setting (such as the New York accent) but since we're not as exposed to foreign accents they can get away with using a modern British accent without breaking immersion for American viewers.

Edited by Weak With The Dawn, 25 March 2012 - 09:49 PM.


#4 Jack Sparrow

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Posted 25 March 2012 - 11:00 PM

"Is the British accent now the default-setting for this kind of material? And, if so, why?"



I'm not sure the British accent has become the absolute default, but it's certainly made a lot of inroads. To me, it started with the Peter Jackson 'Lord of the Rings' movies. I followed the development of those movies very closely, reading dozens and dozens of articles from even before filming started, all of the way up until the release of the first film, and even some after that. Peter Jackson would say he felt that a British-ish accent fit the setting. He would point to Kevin Costner's accent in 'Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves' as proving that the American accent didn't work for those types of movies, and I feel like I've seen the Costner example used many times. I'm not sure the Costner Robin Hood exactly proves that the American accent doesn't work in medieval-ish movies, but his particular flat-toned delivery (and a not very great performance) really stood out, especially against a cast of many British actors. It seems to me that before LoTR, American accents would show up more often in medieval-type fantasy, but it also wasn't a thriving genre before then, either. But the movie 'Willow', which was probably the biggest budgeted medieval-type fantasy movie before LoTR, had Val Kilmer doing an American accent (probably a lot of other actors in that movie, too). 'Dragonslayer' had an American lead actor, I think (haven't seen that one in a long time). 'Highlander' is probably one of the most popular pre-LoTR medieval fantasy movies (though it is also half-urban fantasy), and, while most of the actors appearing in the "past" segments were British, the villain, supposedly a Russian, had an American accent and I don't think anybody minded: he's one of the more popular villains from the genre, I think. I guess the 'Game of Thrones' producers felt similarly to Peter Jackson, though I don't know how much LoTR influenced them. I think a lot of American readers found it a little jarring to hear the characters that they had for so long imagined speaking like them to speak like Brits on the screen. I felt the same way, but at the same time I thought it fit the setting, and I got used to it pretty quickly. It seems to me that some of the British accents in GoT are more pronounced than in LoTR, where I think Jackson wanted the actors to use a softer accent to be more understandable to American audiences. But, anyway, LoTR and Got are the two biggest medievalish fantasy franchises in the past decade: outside of those two, are other medieval fantasy movies/shows using British accents? I haven't seen 'Legend of the Seeker'. 'Camelot' had a lot of British actors and accents, but, like Robin Hood, it's a British setting. There was a recent movie with Nick Cage called 'Season of the Witch', I think. I haven't seen it, but from the trailers Cage had his regular accent. I haven't seen 'The Borgias' either, and I know it's not fantasy, but it's an example of how the American movie and TV business likes to use British actors in way-back period pieces with a European setting, regardless of where in Europe it takes place. I'm trying to think if there are any upcoming fantasy adaptations: 'The Dark Tower' might be happening, but that's an old west setting, not medieval. Will we continue to see a lot of British accents in future medieval fantasy films/shows? Probably. Can an American accent work in medieval fantasy? I think it depends on the actor: Clancy Brown was fine in 'Highlander'. Kevin Costner and Nicholas Cage are not fine.

Edited by Jack Sparrow, 25 March 2012 - 11:20 PM.


#5 Lothor Apple Eater

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Posted 26 March 2012 - 12:14 AM

Upon reflection, I think a big part of it is that many fantasy films have been adaptations of works by English authors--Tolkien, Gaiman, Pullman, CS Lewis, etc. The use of English accents in A Game of Thrones might at this point be more out of habit than reason.

On the other hand, movies like The Neverending Story and The Princess Bride did not have a default English accent and did not suffer from their Americanisms.

Maybe not pertinent, but the English accent is frequently used for Romans as well. I don't know how we'd take a Caesar or Marius who spoke with a contemporary Italian accent but I think I'd like to see it. (And while I greatly enjoy the show Spartacus, the Kiwi accents can be somewhat distracting.)

#6 BlackTalon

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Posted 26 March 2012 - 09:04 AM

A good, educated British accent just sounds pleasing and classy to anybody ... /dunno.gif' class='bbc_emoticon' alt=':dunno:' />

#7 Independent George

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Posted 26 March 2012 - 09:31 AM

I'm not an expert by any means, but what I find interesting is that they sound to my American ears to be not only British accents, but regional British accents. The North sounds vaguely Scottish to me, Robert sounded like he was from Northern England, I know the DVD commentary track to episode 6 said that the Vale was cast as predominantly Welsh (though I couldn't identify a Welsh accent if my life depended on it). I believe (someone please confirm) that Liz Dickie is herself Scottish, but Lysa Arryn seemed to have an English accent to match her sister. Obviously for casting purposes, it's impossible to be completely consistent, but my general impression is that there was a distinct effort to maintain regional accents.

Then again, I could be completely talking out my ass; hopefully one of our British readers can set me straight. For natives, it could be as jarring as watching a western where everybody's speaking Italian. Oh, wait...

#8 Westerosi Dude

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Posted 26 March 2012 - 09:43 AM

I'm not an expert by any means, but what I find interesting is that they sound to my American ears to be not only British accents, but regional British accents. The North sounds vaguely Scottish to me, Robert sounded like he was from Northern England, I know the DVD commentary track to episode 6 said that the Vale was cast as predominantly Welsh (though I couldn't identify a Welsh accent if my life depended on it). I believe (someone please confirm) that Liz Dickie is herself Scottish, but Lysa Arryn seemed to have an English accent to match her sister. Obviously for casting purposes, it's impossible to be completely consistent, but my general impression is that there was a distinct effort to maintain regional accents.


I disagree. There was no real correlation between regions of Westeros and accents in the TV series imo. Robb Stark's accent is clearly Scottish as is that of several other characters from the North such as Jorah Mormont, but Ned, Jon, Sansa, Arya and Bran are all clearly English accents. Syrio from Braavos has a Spanish/Italian accent, but Illyrio from Pentos has a clearly English accent.

Edited by Westerosi Dude, 26 March 2012 - 09:44 AM.


#9 Dracarya

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Posted 26 March 2012 - 09:52 AM

I'm not an expert by any means, but what I find interesting is that they sound to my American ears to be not only British accents, but regional British accents. The North sounds vaguely Scottish to me, Robert sounded like he was from Northern England, I know the DVD commentary track to episode 6 said that the Vale was cast as predominantly Welsh (though I couldn't identify a Welsh accent if my life depended on it). I believe (someone please confirm) that Liz Dickie is herself Scottish, but Lysa Arryn seemed to have an English accent to match her sister. Obviously for casting purposes, it's impossible to be completely consistent, but my general impression is that there was a distinct effort to maintain regional accents.

Then again, I could be completely talking out my ass; hopefully one of our British readers can set me straight. For natives, it could be as jarring as watching a western where everybody's speaking Italian. Oh, wait...


Yes she's Scottish, as is Richard Madden (Robb). Michelle Fairley (Catelyn) is actually Irish.
I don't have much to add to this discussion, as I'm completely ignorant of most things fantasy, but I feel that British accents suit Game of Thrones because Westeros is similar to the UK, in terms of shape and weather and stuff. I like it - I don't think it would have fit as well if they'd had any other accent. British accents also fit because it shows the difference of where you live - Northern accents can be quite harsh and quick, whereas more southern accents are slower and easier to understand. I think this really suits the world of Westeros, and it's brilliant to see young, British actors getting parts in such a popular show.

#10 Dracarya

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Posted 26 March 2012 - 09:55 AM

I disagree. There was no real correlation between regions of Westeros and accents in the TV series imo. Robb Stark's accent is clearly Scottish as is that of several other characters from the North such as Jorah Mormont, but Ned, Jon, Sansa, Arya and Bran are all clearly English accents. Syrio from Braavos has a Spanish/Italian accent, but Illyrio from Pentos has a clearly English accent.


Robb's accent is toned down from his usual accent, let me assure you. But Scottish must be a very difficult accent to mask. Ned has a northern accent, Jon has a bit of it too, but the younger children do have more southern accents - I put that down to the actors being children, and not being able to put on accents. Bear Island is not far from the Wall IIRC, so Jorah should have a more northern accent, but that could be explained by his being exiled and changing it so not to be recognised easily /dunno.gif' class='bbc_emoticon' alt=':dunno:' />

I'm not too bothered if it's not 100% to be quite honest.

#11 Buckwheat

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Posted 26 March 2012 - 10:15 AM

I'm not an expert by any means, but what I find interesting is that they sound to my American ears to be not only British accents, but regional British accents. The North sounds vaguely Scottish to me, Robert sounded like he was from Northern England, I know the DVD commentary track to episode 6 said that the Vale was cast as predominantly Welsh (though I couldn't identify a Welsh accent if my life depended on it). I believe (someone please confirm) that Liz Dickie is herself Scottish, but Lysa Arryn seemed to have an English accent to match her sister. Obviously for casting purposes, it's impossible to be completely consistent, but my general impression is that there was a distinct effort to maintain regional accents.

Then again, I could be completely talking out my ass; hopefully one of our British readers can set me straight. For natives, it could be as jarring as watching a western where everybody's speaking Italian. Oh, wait...

I thought that too, Ned and Jon seemed to me as having a similar accent. But English is not my first language, so I cannot be sure.

Probably a silly idea, but maybe they thought that British English is easier to tunderstand for non-English-speaking audiences? It definitely is for me.

#12 Dolorous Eddie

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Posted 26 March 2012 - 10:16 AM

Well I don't know about other fantasy shows, but seeing as Westeros is based on Britain, I think it makes sense to have the actors speak with a British Accent. As for the American/non-British actors, they're probably masking their accents simply because the majority of the cast is British and it would be odd having only 3 or 4 characters speaking with a completely different accent. Furthermore, I think people tend to associate European accents with the "old world" and American ones with the "new". And that goes for all languages, not just English.

I realise this is off-topic, but what do you Brits thinks of the accents in the show? English is not my native language, so I really can't tell, but do Peter Dinklage and Nikolaj Coster Waldau, for instance, have a good accent?

Edit:

Probably a silly idea, but maybe they thought that British English is easier to tunderstand for non-English-speaking audiences? It definitely is for me.


I completely agree.

Edited by Dolorous Eddie, 26 March 2012 - 10:18 AM.


#13 Dracarya

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Posted 26 March 2012 - 10:38 AM

I thought that too, Ned and Jon seemed to me as having a similar accent. But English is not my first language, so I cannot be sure.

Probably a silly idea, but maybe they thought that British English is easier to tunderstand for non-English-speaking audiences? It definitely is for me.


Except Robb /tongue.png' class='bbc_emoticon' alt=':P' />

I realise this is off-topic, but what do you Brits thinks of the accents in the show? English is not my native language, so I really can't tell, but do Peter Dinklage and Nikolaj Coster Waldau, for instance, have a good accent?


Agree with all you said, and yeah I think they do well. Tyrion's can sound a little odd sometimes, but overall I think they do very well.

#14 Christina Ceriddwynn

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Posted 26 March 2012 - 11:11 AM

The only two fantasy settings I can recall that used American accents were the shows Hercules and Xena.


-which is actually rather funny as most of the actors (not all) are Australian or Kiwis so had to fake an American accent

#15 Ser Scot A Ellison

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Posted 26 March 2012 - 11:15 AM

I thought Ned and Robb sounded vaugely Yorkish, "Stick'em with the poonty end."

#16 protar

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Posted 26 March 2012 - 11:38 AM

I think it's just to make it sound more authentic, as GOT and most high fantasy, is based off of medieval Europe. Seeing as the American accent didn't exist during those days, it sounds too modern for fantasy.

#17 Arataniello

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Posted 26 March 2012 - 11:46 AM


Robb Stark's accent is clearly Scottish


Not to a Scot it isn't. Although the actor has a strong Scotish accent, the character he plays has a northern English accent.

#18 Aegnor

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Posted 26 March 2012 - 12:17 PM

It depends entirely on the setting of the fantasy. Fantasy that occurs, or is otherwise reflective, of medieval history, seems to call for a British accent. Having an American accent would seem way to modern. This only applies to period type fantasy. Harry Potter, for instance could have been set in America, with American accents, with no issue. What made it British, is that it was built into the story by the author. So the British accent is story driven, where the accent in Game of Thrones is not.

I guess my point is that it really has absolutely NOTHING to do with it being fantasy. It is all about the period that the story takes place in, or the period that it is emulating (in the case of fictional worlds).

#19 Woman of War

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Posted 26 March 2012 - 12:17 PM

Actually I would like to know that too: what kind of accent does Peter Dinklage have here?
I am not a native speaker, my English teacher at school was Saxonian (addenjon bleeze, boyz and gurrlz!) and I only learned English from reading Tolkien and John Irving, sorry.

#20 ShadowKitty

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Posted 26 March 2012 - 12:22 PM

Not to a Scot it isn't. Although the actor has a strong Scotish accent, the character he plays has a northern English accent.

I'm Scottish and agree /smile.png' class='bbc_emoticon' alt=':)' />

Also agree that American accents sound modern in a medieval setting.

I reckon the Wildlings beyond the Wall should sound Scottish. Mostly because it makes me think of Hadrian's Wall! /smile.png' class='bbc_emoticon' alt=':)' />