Hollywood Imperialism: Make the World Britain!

This is the first actual “weekend” I’ve had in a long time. I write every day, or at least edit/proofread. For those of you who may have missed it on Twitter, I finished editing my novel and sent it off for review yesterday.  So this weekend is completely off!  Except for this blog…enjoy.

The subject of the blog entry, is something I’ve noticed for a long time:

To Americans, all foreigners are British.

This is specifically true, if the movie is highlighting an ancient civilization.  Go watch any movie or TV show made in the last 15 years, and if the foreigners are speaking English, I guarantee it’s the King’s.

Now onto the “why”:

-Sometimes the actors actually are British.  Sometimes.  People cite the HBO show “Rome” as an example of this.  You point out that all the Romans have British accents, and they’ll inform you it’s simply because that’s how they speak.  Not exactly.  Many of the actors on that show were Irish, and needed voice coaches to become posh-sounding Imperialists.  Which leads us to the next point….

The English were Imperialist.  That’s why it makes sense to us as a modern audience.  The hoity-toighty English accent makes more sense to our American minds for the portrayal of members of a grand empire, than a cheese-ball Italian accent would (even if it’s more accurate).  You wouldn’t want Mario and Luigi giving epic speeches, would you?  Even Star Wars recognizes this effect, as almost all their Imperial officers have a British accent.

-It makes distinguishing class easier.  Perhaps the most subconscious-based reason.  As many people don’t know much about ancient political structure, giving the nobility an “educated” accent (mmmmmyes, quite right) and giving the footsoldiers a “common” accent (‘ello govna!) allows us to easily distinguish social hierarchy without having it explained to us.

These all make a certain amount of sense, to me at least.  But sometimes it goes a bit far.  I recently watched the movie “Hugo”, which takes place in 1930s France.  All the books, menus, signs, etc were in French.  They even went so far as to shoot it in Paris.  Yet the actors all had British accents!  Perhaps English-speaking actors with French accents are hard to find, while Britains are abundant.  Or perhaps…

-That’s just the way we do it.  Because of actor availability on foreign locations, classical films used English actors.  So the tradition continues.  That, and we don’t want to start confusing the audience this late in the game.

Can you imagine a Roman General with a Tennessee accent? But it’s just as realistic as British tones.

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4 thoughts on “Hollywood Imperialism: Make the World Britain!

  1. And often I think it’s to evoke the American independence war, so an American audience gets additional subliminal clues as to who the ‘bad guys’ are (or it could just be a Mel Gibson film, he’s not our greatest fan…)

    • Excellent point, Sweetenr!

      I failed to mention that the lead can typically sound American without any problems (as a matter of fact, it’s preferred), becuase the American audience will better empathize with him. Take Russel Crowe in Gladiator–he abandoned his native Australian tones for a more Americanized method of speaking.

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