Neil Calloway On Why The English Accent Still Reigns Supreme With Hollywood Villains…
I was watching, and enjoying Logan Lucky earlier this week; it’s a well made, fresh, fun film that will make you laugh. One moment, however, had me wincing into the drink I’d snuck into the cinema (if you think I’m paying the prices they charge you’re very much mistaken). Seth MacFarlane, a man whose appeal remains elusive to me, turns up playing an obnoxious energy drink company founder, one of the two most unlikeable characters in the film. He plays him with the only accent a privately educated guy from Connecticut can play a character like that; a British one.
It’s a peculiar type of British accent, though. One I’m sure you’ve heard before but one that only exists in one particular place; when Americans are trying to do British accents of rich yet working class people. You heard it on that show you liked as a kid when someone played a hilariously bad stereotypical British rock star who was stuck in the 1970s, but you’ve never actually heard anyone speak in that accent in Britain.
Of course, it’s no surprise to hear a dodgy English accent in a Steven Soderbergh movie; Don Cheadle’s appalling faux Cockney accent in the Ocean’s films is so bad that it’s frequently featured on “worst accent” lists. It’s part of the joke, or at least you hope it is. With MacFarlane’s accent though, you know he’s a bad guy simply because of the way he’s speaking.
The fact is that Hollywood loves a British bad guy as much as it loves a franchise based on a comic book. It’s understandable in a way; The United States was founded in direct opposition to Britain, so the US film industry was probably always going to look to Brits as the bad guys; if it wasn’t for us being the bad guys, they wouldn’t exist. Even the most conservative estimate shows that there are about three times as many countries around the world that Britain has invaded or gone to war against than those we haven’t. Brit hatred is a near universal phenomenon.
It’s also a bit of a self-fulfilling prophecy; the more English bad guys (and yes it usually is English; you rarely see Scottish or Welsh bad guys, do you?) you see in films the more used you get to the conceit, and come to expect all bad guys to be English. A study from earlier this year showed that people speaking in Received Pronunciation (aka that posh English accent that not even BBC newsreaders actually speak any more) are considered “less trustworthy, kind, sincere, and friendly than speakers of non-RP accents.” It’s hard to know whether English accents are deemed untrustworthy because we associate them with movie villains, or they are used for movie villains because we associate them with being untrustworthy. It’s probably a bit of both.
It’s a weird backhanded compliment for us Brits; as long as we’re the bad guys it means we’re still relevant. It’s when they replace us with Russians we need to start to worry.
Neil Calloway is a pub quiz extraordinaire and Top Gun obsessive. Check back here every Sunday for future instalments.