Top Five Most Terrible British Accents: The Worst of Affectations from Across the Internets

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?


Comments

  1. avatar says

    The British actor who makes me melt is Simon Jones, the original Arthur Dent of Hitchhiker’s. I don’t know what you call his accent, but he is dreamy for this 42 year old! :D

  2. avatarMatthew says

    I have two picks for THE worst English accent ever.

    Anne Hathaway doing an awful attempt at a Yorkshire/Northern in One Day despite doing good posh accents in Becoming Jane and in Alice in Wonderland.

    Also, Josh Hartnett has an awful attempt too for the film Blow Dry. Words fail me.

    • avatarJo says

      Oh I don’t know – I had quite a spirited discussion once over whether Hugh Laurie was English or American. Someone I worked with had never seen anything else he’d done and was convinced he was from Baltimore. Also Andrew Lincoln has surprised many with his accent in Walking Dead, I’m told by my Georgia born husband that it’s not a Georgia accent tho – more South Carolina.

  3. avatargobonniego says

    Funny, I thought Costner played the entire Robin Hood WITHOUT accent, except for the one line after he smeared horse poop on his face. I didn’t know he was attempting an accent the whole time until I saw the clip.

    And poor Dick Van Dyke should be given a break since he had an accent coach who wasn’t worth a fig.

    Most American’s can’t spot the horror of the bad accent, and I have to say I’m glad. It makes movies much more enjoyable. It’s more fun for us to spot and criticize bad American accents. It’s fun listening intently and finding that one vowel the poor English actor can’t make sound American.

  4. avatarseamstressguild says

    Most of these played for laughs, esp. Mike Myers. I thought Kevin Costner didn’t even TRY to do a British accent in “Robin Hood.”

    Sean Astin and Elijah Wood in “Lord of the Rings” wasn’t great, either. It seemed to come and go, depending.

    Worst ever: Harry Shearer in “This Is Spinal Tap.” HORRIBLE. And he finally sorta pulled it together for the sequel. Hey, better late than never….

  5. avatarLeni Joann Fox says

    I can understand how it would annoy the British to hear a bad accent. I am from the American South and I hate it when someone does a really bad Southern accent. Sounds like fingernails on a chalkboard to my Southern ears. They always make us sound like our parents were brother and sister.

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