LINGUIST List 9.1612
Sat Nov 14 1998
Sum: Movies with Convincing Accents
Editor for this issue: Karen Milligan <karenlinguistlist.org>
Joseph Tomei, Movies with convincing accents
Message 1: Movies with convincing accents
Date: Sat, 14 Nov 1998 13:40:11 +0900
From: Joseph Tomei <jtomeikumagaku.ac.jp>
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
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
++++++++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
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
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
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.
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
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,
Dirty Rotten Scoundrels (1988)
Man Who Would Be King, The (1975)
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)
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)
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?
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?
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
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
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)
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)
14.Kingfisher Caper, The (1975)
15.Kwagga Strikes Back (1990) 7.4/10 (8 votes)
...aka Oh Schucks... here comes UNTAG! (1990)
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
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.
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
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?
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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)
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?
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
>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
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
Kumamoto Gakuen Daigaku