So when I decided to tackle this subject for Anglotopia, my research uncovered that there are a multitude of opinions on which American actors do the worst British accents. Some commentators think Renee Zellweger’s Bridget Jones is like nails on a chalkboard, while others loathe Don Cheadle’s Basher Carr from Oceans 11-13. However, there are several actors whose attempts at sounding like Britons are universally reviled. Such are the internet’s worst offenders:
1. Dick Van Dyke as Bert in “Mary Poppins”
This is perhaps the granddaddy of bad British accents. It’s easy to forgive when you’re a kid, but as you grow older, you really want to reach through your television and throttle him. Any time an American tries to do a cockney accent, they inevitably end up doing some variation of Van Dyke’s stereotypical characterization. In a 2003 Empire magazine poll, his was ranked the second worst of all time. Van Dyke would later say that his accent coach, who was Irish, “didn’t do an accent any better than I did. For proof of its horribleness, have a look at this video.
If you’ll notice, he even completely drops it at one point when he says “Where was I?” But if you can say anything about his role, you can at least say that he tried, unlike the next candidate.
2. Kevin Costner as Robin Hood in “Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves”
One thing that can be said of Kevin Costner is that he can’t do accents to save his life. It’s not just that he can’t do one type of accent, he can’t do *any*–at all–EVER. Think about it for a second. He did a horrible Southern accent in “JFK”, a horrendous Bostonian accent in “Thirteen Days”, and his Robin Hood barely even registers. In fact, his utter failure would be lampshaded in Mel Brooks’ “Robin Hood: Men in Tights” when Cary Elwes, asked why the people would listen to him, responds “Because unlike some Robin Hoods, I can speak with an *authentic* English accent.” Observe the horror below.
3. James Doohan as Montgomery Scott in “Star Trek”
I know, it seems like sacrilege, but if you’ve ever heard an actual Scot like David Tennant, Billy Connolly, or Craig Ferguson speak, they don’t sound anything like Scotty. As William Shatner observes in his book “Memories”, James Doohan was cast for his professed ability to do accents, and opted to make Mr. Scott Scottish because he felt they made the best engineers. Fortunately when Simon Pegg took on the role in the 2009 film, he made the attempt to actually sound like he was from Scotland, or more specifically, Glasgow. Here’s Craig Ferguson talking about how bad Doohan’s accent was at about 2:30 into the video.
4. Mike Myers in as “Austin Powers”
Now, I’ll grant this one was mostly played for laughs, and it’s pretty funny when you’re still in middle school, but as an adult I often want to scream “No one actually sounds like that!” It’s hard to think now that I considered it decent, but now it seems completely silly to me. I guess if you look at it as solely done for the sake of comedy, then it’s fine, but I’m just glad there won’t be an Austin Powers 4 anytime soon….oh, wait–http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1218992/
5. Keanu Reeves as Jonathan Harker in “Bram Stoker’s Dracula” and Don John in “Much Ado About Nothing”
I saved the best (worst?) for last because Mr. Reeves is a two-time offender, making this list for horrible accents in two different characters. Now, I absolutely love this version of Dracula because I’m a literature nerd and to me, this is one of the most faithful adaptations of the original novel—at least, plot-wise. You have to wonder if Reeves has ever heard a British accent before doing this film, or at least could have picked up something from Sir Anthony Hopkins. At least the fact that Harker got the life drained out of him helps Reeves’ performance.
What’s even worse is to hear him do Shakespeare. As Don John the Bastard in 1993’s “Much Ado”, I’m surprised director Kenneth Branagh didn’t punch him at least once. His acting is so stiff and accent so unimpressive it makes you hate him all the more, which I suppose is good when you’re the villain. See below for a performance that would make the Bard himself ashamed.
Do you agree with this list? Which American actor has the WORST British Accent?