Lousy accents

A bit off the books trail, this, but I’ve got a bee under my bonnet at the moment about actors’ accents. A few years ago I was involved in some amateur dramatics productions. I was no great shakes as an actor, but it was a lot of fun, particularly when I got to try out a new accent (they included New York, Lancashire and London Cockney; the last was a success, I think, the first two less so). Bear in mind, though, I was strictly an amateur.

Having grown up in South Africa, I have a finely tuned ear for a Saffrican accent. Whether it’s because of this or whether there’s something inherent in the South African accent that’s difficult to reproduce, I don’t know. But there have been some truly atrocious stabs at it in film and on television, by people who should know better. I dare say you’ve come across similarly awful renditions of accents you’re familiar with.

Here’s my countdown of the worst three attempts at accents ever committed to screen.

3. Patsy Kensit in Lethal Weapon 2. She takes normal human speech, drenches it in vague Australianisms and comes up with nothing that’s ever been heard before or since. And it’s inconsistent, as any really bad accent must be.

2. Tony Curtis in Some Like It Hot. Great, classic film, shame about the woefully misguided ‘upper-class Briddish’ Curtis regales, indeed flails, us with. Even worse than Dick van Dyke’s Cockney in Mary Poppins, considered by many to be the benchmark of bad film accents.

1. And the number one spot goes to…. drumroll… none other than Daniel Craig, James Bond 007 himself. Not in the Bond films, but in Steven Spielberg’s Munich. Mr Craig tries to pass himself off as a Jewish South African and produces something barely recognisable as human speech, let alone remotely intelligible.

Go on, then, tell me yours.

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  1. James Coburn’s Australian in The Great Escape. Dick Van Dyke with a smattering of Daffy Duck.

  2. Don’t remember that, but it certainly sounds worth revisiting.

  3. You do realize Curtis was doing a Cary Grant impression, no?

  4. Was he really? No, I didn’t know. Will have to watch it again (for about the tenth time).

    But I remember an interview with Curtis on the BBC a couple of years ago when he was discussing the film. He reproduced the accent precisely, and genuinely seemed to think he was delivering an upper-class English voice of Method standards. The audience laughed their heads off, at him rather than with him, and the more they laughed the more he failed to grasp what was going on.

    I should add that I greatly admire him as both a comedic and a serious actor. His finest moments were Some Like It Hot and The Boston Strangler.

  5. I’d add to those triumphs Sweet Smell of Success, which fillets what in 1957 was the publicity industry and the scaremongering press and is now approximately the whole world.

  6. It wasn’t a stab at a British, Aussie or South African accent, but bar none, the worst foreign pronunciation ever in a movie goes to Scarlett Johansson as the Black Widow in The Avengers. She sounds like a Russian raised in the San Fernando Valley. At one point I laughed out loud (embarrassing my son) when she said БОЖЕ МОЙ! It literally took me a couple of seconds to realize what she was supposed to be saying. . . Ugh!

  7. William, good catch. I’m no expert on Russian accents, good or bad, but I know a bit of the written language and I think I know what Ms Johansson was supposed to be saying there.

    Incidentally, did you know that here in the UK that film was released as Avengers Assemble, since we already had our own homegrown 60s TV series called The Avengers?


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