LINGUIST List 9.1612

Sat Nov 14 1998

Sum: Movies with Convincing Accents

Editor for this issue: Karen Milligan <>


  • Joseph Tomei, Movies with convincing accents

    Message 1: Movies with convincing accents

    Date: Sat, 14 Nov 1998 13:40:11 +0900
    From: Joseph Tomei <>
    Subject: Movies with convincing accents

    I earlier posted a request for some recommendations for movies with convincing accents as an 'ear-stretching' exercise for my Japanese university students. I'd like to thank everyone who replied as well as a few off-line friends who added suggestions, listing all at the bottom of this post. I've also given a brief summary of the films (if I haven't seen them they are taken from the Internet Movie Database at as well so you can skip films whose content you might feel is inappropriate.

    Though I'm also in the process of getting other materials as well, the focus was on films to both introduce the students to the accents as well as encourage them to learn other things about the English speaking regions of the world. (as well as providing me an excuse to watch movies instead of work!)

    ++++++++United Kingdom accents++++++++ One correspondent noted that UK films in general tend to do a better job with accents because 'it still matters'. If the volume of email is any measure of 'mattering' she was right- The majority of posts concerned British accents. Also recommended were BBC dramas in general, but as they are a bit hard to obtain here in Japan, I've only listed the one that I have found here.

    One correspondent tweaked me for not including a Welsh accent, but no recommendations as to films, so if you know of one, please let me know! Another correspondent said that Anthony Hopikins, being Welsh, uses that accent in some films, but he didn't know any particular titles.

    For a Northern English accent Kes (1969, dir. Ken Loach, American release partly subtitled in English!) Billy Casper comes from the poorest end of town (Leeds, England), he can't concentrate at school and does very badly. Then one day he sees a wild kestrel and this leads to a whole new side of his character being discovered. (from Internet Movie Database)

    Brassed Off (available in Japan as Burasu, 1996, dir. Mark Herman) A Yorkshire 'collier band' (brass band made up of the coal miners) tries to stay together as their jobs are on the line. Great music and keen accents.

    The Full Monty (1997, dir. Peter Cattaneo) Set in Sheffield, unemployed steel workers, desperate for work, try a Chippendale's strip show, promising total nudity ('The full monty')

    All Creatures Great and Small (TV serial) A long running TV series, detailing when a vet comes to rural Yorkshire. Local inhabitants speech is quite authentic.

    For a (lowland) Scottish accent Trainspotting (dir. Danny Boyle) 80s Edinburgh heroin users with a lot of black humor, strong language and some sexual situations. Also linguistically interesting is the book of short stories by Irving Walsh on which the movie is based, which uses non-standard spellings to represent the dialect.

    For a (Western Isles/ highland) Scottish accent 'Local Hero' (1983, dir. Bill Forsyth) An American oil multi millionaire wants to buy oil rights in a remote Scottish village. In a funny inversion, the millionaire falls in love with the place and doesn't want to spoil it while the inhabitants are anxious to cash in.

    For an Irish accent The Irish film industry is quite vigorous, but films made in Northern Ireland are often financed by the UK film board and so will turn up in searches under British rather than Irish.

    The Committments (1991, dir. Alan Parker) Working class Dublin youth form a band to play black soul, taken from an excellent book by Paddy Doyle (some strong language and one sexual situation)

    The Snapper (1993, dir. Stephen Frears) the 'sequel' to the Committments, but only in the sense that it is adapted from the second book of of Paddy Doyle.Young Irish girl becomes pregnant and the family struggles to cope with her refusing to name the father.

    Name of the Father (dir. 1993, dir. Jim Sheridan) Daniel Day Lewis does a good job with the Belfast accent in the movie dramatization of the Guildford 5 case

    Michael Collins (1996, dir. Neil Jordan) Details the story of the struggle for Irish independence from the 1916 Easter Rebellion to shortly after the founding of the Free State of Eire through the biography of Michael Collins. Most of the actors are Irish, but Julia Roberts can't quite get the accent right. Also interesting were the several web sites detailing the film, which can add more historical insights. Entertainment/Movies_and_Film/Titles/Drama/Michael_Collins/

    Cal (1984, dir. Pat O'Connor) Cal, a young man on the fringes of the IRA, falls in love with Marcella, a Catholic woman whose husband, a Protestant policeman, was killed one year earlier by the IRA. (from IMDB)

    Avoid Ryan's Daughter' (1970, dir. David Lean) unless you are looking for 'bad' exemplars of a rural Irish accent.

    Also to be avoided for accents is the Nicole Kidman, Tom Cruise 'Far and Away' about Irish immigrants coming to America.

    British accents For a Liverpool accent ('Scouse') John Lennon had this accent, so obviously, the Beatles movies, most particularly Help! are good examples.

    (I also wonder if 'Backbeat', about the Beatles early days in Hamburg also provides a good example. (warning: strong language, sex, drugs and rock n roll!))

    A Letter to Brezhnev (1985, dir. Chris Bernard) Two Soviet sailors make contact with two Liverpudlian natives. Love happens, but the the sailors have to return to their ship. But one of the women is determined to be reunited, thus the title.

    For a Cockney accent Mona Lisa (1986, dir. Neil Jordan) Bob Hoskins, fresh out of prison, becomes the chaffeur for a high class prostitute in Soho, whose pimp is Michael Caine.

    Other Michael Caine movies might also provide good examples of this accent, which include Dirty Rotten Scoundrels (1988) Man Who Would Be King, The (1975) Sleuth (1972) Alfie (1966)

    Southwest English accent No recommendations here, but as this was the setting of many (all?) of Thomas Hardy's novels, one correspondent suggested that the movie versions might have good examples.

    General British accent Three of Mike Leigh's films were recommended, noting that they deal with class relations and use accent to represent classes. He is quite famous for his directing style, which eschews a script and asks actors to improvise characters and scenes which he then develops into a story line. They were:

    Secrets and Lies (1996) Cynthia lives in London with her sullen street-sweeper daughter. Her brother has been successful with his photographer's business and now lives nearby in a more upmarket house. But Cynthia hasn't even been invited round there after a year. So, all round, she feels rather lonely and isolated. Meanwhile, in another part of town, Hortense, adopted at birth but now grown up, starts to try and trace her mother. Hortense is black, but there seems little doubt her real mother is Cynthia. (from IMDB)

    Naked (1993) Johnny flees Manchester for London, to avoid a beating from the family of a girlhe has raped. There he finds an old girlfriend, and spends some time homeless, spending much of his time ranting at strangers, and meeting characters in plights very much like his own. (from IMDB) (does Johnny have a Macusian accent?)

    High Hopes (1988) Set in Thatcherite England, it portrays the two sides of the class abyss, the yuppies and the die-hard socialists.

    And a search turned up some other films by Mike Leigh Life is Sweet (1991) Career Girls (1997)

    Welsh accent I wonder if The Englishman Who Went Up a Hill, But Came Down a Mountain with Hugh Grant, about two English cartographers visit a small South Wales village in 1917 is good for a Welsh accent. Any opinions?

    Omnibus?? I've just seen a review of Ken Loach's Riff-Raff, a story of working class London in the Thatcherite days, where London was a magnet for workers from other parts of England. The workers, according to the review, all exhibit different dialects. Any comments?

    +++++++++Australian accents++++++++++++ The Australian accent, one correspondent noted has three types "cultivated (which is almost the same as British RP), standard and broad (which is what you find mimicked in the earlier films" Some people termed Crocodile Dundee and the sequel as broad, while others termed it as overboard (my paraphrase) However, because it has Paul Hogan in America, it provides a ready made accent contrast.

    Priscilla, The Queen of the Desert (1994, dir. Stephan Elliott) This movie which is the story of two drag-queens (Anthony/Mitzi and Adam/Felicia) and a transexual (Bernadette) contract to perform a drag show at a resort in Alice Springs. They head west from Sydney aboard their lavender bus, Priscilla. En route, they meet with a number of adventures. On arriving in Alice, the others are shocked to learn that Anthony has a son, who is quite matter-of-fact about his father's lifestyle. Adam, Anthony and Benji return to Sydney, while Bernadette remains in Alice Springs with Bob. (from IMDB) This movie shows the full mix of accents.

    The next two films are helpful for understanding the presence of antagonistic attitudes towards Great Britain. The films themselves served to bring forth an Australian film industry that could present movies about Australian themes.

    Gallipoli (1981, dir. Peter Weir) This movies follows the enlistment and loss of innocence of rural young Australians as they participate in the WWI campaign by ANZAC forces against Turkey.

    Breaker Morant (1980, dir. Bruce Beresford) >From a true incident in the Boer War where three Australian lieutenants are court martialed for acts that were ordered/condoned by the General Staff. Edward Woodward, who plays Harry Morant, is an English immigrant to Australia with a more British accent, while Bryan Brown, playing Lt. Hancock, presents a more typical Australian accent.

    Some other films are The Castle (1997, dir. Rob Sitch) A Melbourne family is very happy living where they do, near the Melbourne airport However, they are forced to leave their beloved home. 'The Castle' is the story of how they fight to remain in their house, taking their case as far as the High Court. (from IMDB)

    Strictly Ballroom (1992) Scott Hastings is a champion caliber ballroom dancer, but much to the chagrin of the Australian ballroom dance community, he believes in dancing "his own steps". Fran is a beginning dancer and a bit of an ugly duckly who has the audacity to ask to be Scott's partner after his unorthodox style causes his regular partner to dance out of his life. Together, these two misfits try to win the Australian Pan Pacific Championships.(from IMDB)

    Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975, dir. Peter Wier) Three students and a school teacher disappear on an excursion to Hanging Rock, in Victoria, on Valetine's Day, 1900. Widely (and incorrectly) regarded as being based on a true story, the movie follows those that disappeared, and those that stayed behind, but it delights in the asking of questions, not the answering of them. (from IMDB)

    My Brillant Career (1979, Dir.Gillian Armstrong) A young idealistic and rebellious woman in 1890s Australia is invited to stay with her prosperous grandmother. There she is courted by an Englishman, spending time as a jackaroo on the property, but Sybylla is attracted to Beecham, the owner of the neighboring property. Both men pursue her; however, Sybylla is wary of relationships, after seeing those of the women who matter in her life. (from the Official Sam Neill home page

    Also, if you are interested in the Australian film industry, you may wish to check out 40,000 years of Dreaming, in which Australian born film maker George (Mad Max) Miller offers a personal view of Australian films. He suggests that they can be regarded as visual music, public dreaming, mythology, and song-lines. In extrapolating the idea of movies as song-lines he examines feature films under the following categories : songs of the land ; the bushman ; the convicts ; the bush-rangers ; mates and larrikins ; the digger ; pommy bashing ; the sheilas ; gays ; the wogs ; blackfellas ; urban subversion. He then concludes that these films can be thought of as "Hymns that sing of Australia". (from IMDB)

    Be careful with the first Mad Max movie, which was 'dubbed' into American English because they thought Americans wouldn't understand it!

    +++++++++South African accents+++++++++++ Two were recommended The Stick (1987, Dir. Darrell Roodt) sorry no summary

    Mapantsula (1988, Dir. Thomas Mogotlane & Oliver Schmitz) Mapantsula tells the story of Panic, a petty gangster who inevitably becomes caught up in the growing anti-apartheid struggle and has to choose between individual gain and a united stand against the system.

    In addition, the IMDB yielded 22 titles whose language was Afrikkans, but which may have large chunks of South African English dialogue They were (with votes on popularity: 1.After You, Comrade (1967) 2.Animals Are Beautiful People (1974) 9.4/10 (52 votes) 3.Any Man's Death (1988) 4.Behind Locked Doors (1976) ...aka Anybody, Anyway (1976) ...aka Anybody, Anywhere (1976) ...aka Behind Closed Doors (1976) 5.Circles in a Forest (1990) 6.Death in the Family (1993) (TV) 7.Dingaka (1965) 8.Funny People (1977/II) 9.Funny People II (1983) 10.Gods Must Be Crazy II, The (1989) 7.1/10 (121 votes) 11.Gods Must Be Crazy, The (1980) 7.3/10 (954 votes) 12.Jemina & Johnny (1965) 13.Jobman (1990) 14.Kingfisher Caper, The (1975) 15.Kwagga Strikes Back (1990) 7.4/10 (8 votes) ...aka Oh Schucks... here comes UNTAG! (1990) 16.Mapantsula (1988) 17.Paljas (1997) 8.4/10 (17 votes) 18.Place of Weeping (1986) 19.River of Diamonds (1990) 20.Stick, The (1987) 21.Target of an Assassin (1976) ...aka African Rage (1976) ...aka Fatal Assassin (1976) ...aka Long Shot, The (1976) ...aka Portrait of an Assassin (1976) ...aka Tigers Don't Cry (1976) 22.Yankee Zulu (1994) 7.0/10 (15 votes) ...aka There's a Zulu on My Stoep (1994)

    I have to interject that I really don't care for the Gods Must Be Crazy films because they exhibit a rather large amount of underlying prejudice in the portrayal of the Kalahari Bushman characters. I have not seen any of the other films yet.

    +++++++++New Zealand accents++++++++++++ I went off line to Farrell Cleary to ask about NZ accents. I've always had a hard time pinning down the NZ accent, but I'm looking forward to making a start with these films.

    An Angel at my Table (1990, dir. Jane Campion) The story of NZ author Janet Frame, who grows up in a poor family with lots of brothers and sisters. She gets an education as a teacher but since she is considered abnormal she is locked up in a mental institution for eight years. Success comes when she starts to write books. (From IMDB)

    As for The Piano, also by the same director, the accents aren't identifiably NZ, even though Sam Neill is a native Kiwi.

    UTU (1983 dir. Geoff Murphy) A Maori 'western', set in the Maori wars of 1860. The warrior Te Wheke fights for the British until betrayal leads him to seek utu (revenge). The settler Williamson in turn seeks revenge after Te Wheke attacks his homestead. Meanwhile Wiremu, an officer for the British, seems to think that resistance is futile. (From IMDB)

    Once were Warriors (1994, dir. Lee Tamahori) Set in urban Auckland (New Zealand), this movie describes a Maori family and its problems. The movie is taken from a novel by Alan Duff, a half Maori writer who has become a leading spokesman for 'neo-conservative' approaches to Maori culture. (I'm trying to be as neutral as possible on this, so please no flames!) I highly recommend both the book and the movie for those interested in minority groups and their struggles in an urban environment.

    Heavenly Creatures (1994 dir. Peter Jackson) Set in 1950's Christchurch and based on the true story of Juliet Hulme and Pauline Parker, two close friends who share a love of fantasy and literature, who conspire to kill Pauline's mother when she tries to end the girls' intense and obsessive relationship. (From IMDB) The parent's of one of the girls are English academics, which may be interesting for purposes of comparisons.

    +++++++++American accents++++++++++++ Midwest Fargo (1996, Dir. Joel Coen) A (very) black comedy based on a true story. A business man arranges the kidnapping of his wife to solve some financial problems, and things begin to go very wrong. Strong violence, sex and profanity

    Appalachian Matewan (1987, dir. John Sayles) Mingo County, West Virginia, 1920. Coal miners, struggling to form a union, are up against company operators and gun thugs; Black and Italian miners, brought in by the company to break the strike, are caught between the two forces. Drawn from an actual incident; the characters of Sid Hatfield, Cabell Testerman, C. E. Lively, and Few Clothes Johnson were based on real people. (from IMDB) Recommended as a possibility. Any comments?

    Southern Fried Green Tomatoes (1995, dir. Jon Avenet) Evelyn Couch is having trouble in her marriage, and no one seems to take her seriously. While in a nursing home visiting relatives, she meets Ninny Threadgoode, an outgoing old woman, who tells her the story of Idgie Threadgoode, a young woman in 1920's Alabama. Through Idgie's inspiring life, Evelyn learns to be more assertive and builds a lasting friendship of her own with Ninny. (from IMDB) Kathy Bates is a Memphis native, and does the accent quite well.

    The Apostle (1997, dir. Robert Duvall) Eulis 'Sonny' Dewey is a preacher from Texas living a happy life with his beautiful wife Jessie. Suddenly his stable world crumbles and he leaves town, takes a new name, 'Apostle E.F.' and goes to Louisiana. E.F. starts to preach everywhere: on the radio, on the streets, and with his new friend, Reverend Blackwell he starts a campaign to renovate an old church. (from IMDB)

    I've always thought that Robert Duvall did a good Southern accent, shown off in Days of Thunder and Lonesome Dove as has Tommy Lee Jones (born in Texas) in the latter.

    Cajun Southern Comfort (1981, dir. Walter Hill) makes use of some authentic Cajuns, with authentic Cajun accents. Be careful, though. An important point in the movie is that the bad guys, who are pursuing the guardsmen, aren't really Cajuns, although the guardsmen, whose view of the natives of the area is quite simplistic, classes them all as "Cajuns." (thanks to Linda Coleman for this observation) Rather violent.

    New York/ Working class There are far too many films to choose from, so these are just a few of the ones that were suggested

    Saturday Night Fever(1977, Dir.John Badham) Ahhh, nostalgia. John Travolta give a Brooklyn accent a workout

    My Cousin Vinny (1992, dir. Jonathan Lynn) Two teenage boys from New York are travelling down south when a series of coincidences lands them in jail charged with first degree murder. They can't afford the $50K for an attorney so they call the lawyer cousin of one of the boys. Vinny is a stereotypical New Yorker who is initially a complete disaster, but can he get them off the hook ? (from IMDB)

    I felt the Southern accent was a little overdone in this movie, but then, my 'cousin' in name only, Marisa Tomei, is in this, so I have to list it

    Donnie Brasco (1997, Dir. Mike Newell) This true story follows FBI agent Joe Pistone as he infiltrates the mafia of New York. Befriending Lefty Ruggiero, Pistone (under the name Donnie Brasco) is able to embed himself in a mafia faction lead by Sonny Black. The real dilemma is afforded to Pistone, who knows if he walks away from the mafia, Ruggiero will be the one punished. (from IMDB, violence)

    To be avoided is Good Will Hunting, where Robin Williams doesn't do such a good job with the South Boston accent.

    +++++++++Indian accents++++++++++++ Because these three films concern the conflict between the British Empire and Indians, the accents are symbolic of that conflict, though in the last two, the casting of English actors for the major Indian role did raise some complaints

    Heat and Dust (1982, Dir James Ivory) Anne is investigating the life of her grand-aunt Olivia, whose destiny has always been shrouded with scandal. The search leads back to the early 1920s, when Olivia, recently married to Douglas, a civil servant in the colonial administration, comes to live with him in India. As Anne delves into the history of her grand-aunt, she is led to reconsider her own life. (from IMDB)

    Ghandi (1982, Dir Richard Attenborough) The biography of Mahatma Gandhi and as such a great moral piece for students to take in.

    A Passage to India(1984, Dir. David Lean) Tensions between Indians and the colonial British come to a boil when a white female tourist accuses a young Indian Doctor of rape during a visit to caverns. A study of colonial relations and the nature of memory. Based on E. M. Forster's novel. (from IMDB)

    +++++++++Jamaican accents++++++++++++ The Harder They Come (1973, Dir. Perry Henzell) A poor Jamaican, a 1970s anti-hero, tries to make it with a hit record but finds that payola rules. His record will only be played if he signs away his rights. He turns to dealing marijuana and runs afoul of the law. As an underground fugitive, he becomes a political hero. (from IMDB)

    No one mentioned Cool Runnings, about the Jamaican bobsled team. Any opinions out there?

    +++++++++++Varia++++++++++++++++++ One unfortunate lacuna was Singapore English.

    I was advised against the Dialect Tapes for actors that had I considered

    Also, Harold Schiffman sent the following: >I don't have much to add about accents in film, tho I am always looking >for stuff myself. I teach a course on "Popular Conceptions of Language" >that focuses on representations of language in popular culture >(advertising, film etc.) and have some stuff that might be useful for >you there. > >for an idea of what I do on this. Lippi-Green's book is useful on the >question of accent, and especially her bibliography. Any Disney movie >will have a slew of accents that stereotypically define the characters >in various ways.

    Ellen Gurman Bard also sent in her neat web site which is: >the HCRC Map Task Corpus which >will allow you to display the transcription and hear the sound of genuine >Scottish undergraduates: >

    Thanks to (and I think this is everyone) donald e salting, Lynne Hewitt, Richard Laurent, Ellen Bard, Mark Irwin, Yuko Yoshida, Claudia Bubel, Michele Neylon, David Tugwell, Linda Coleman, Farrell Cleary, Julie Sedivy, Price Caldwell, Rina Kreitman, Harold Schiffman, Nancy Frishberg, Melissa Bortz, Duncan Markham, Dina Belyayeva, and Claire Bowern Joseph Tomei Kumamoto Gakuen Daigaku