So just how good is Kate? And Martin? And the Wild Mountain Thyme cast? (Picture: HBO/Rex/BBC)
To claim the best parts in films and TV shows, actors often must push themselves to learn new skills. Accents are part and parcel of this process, and usually the easiest thing for audiences to recognise (or not) and criticise.
Both Dick Van Dyke in Mary Poppins and Kevin Costner in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves get a lot of flak for their infamously poor attempts to sound English (did Costner even try?), but what about the accents and dialects being used by performers in some of the biggest TV shows and films of the moment?
Nancy Wrigglesworth, voice and accent coach at City Academy, was happy to provide her expert opinion with Metro.co.uk on some of the accents currently gracing our screens.
From Delco to Irish, and award-worthy to a little bit shaky, let’s dive in to find out the accuracy of some of these actors’ accents.
Martin Compston in Line of Duty – ‘He’s an actor, not a spy’
Martin Compston does well to conceal his Scottish accent – but not spy-level well (Picture: BBC)
After Sunday night’s Line of Duty finale, Steve Arnott actor Martin Compston can take a breather from his Estuary sounds and relax back into his native Scottish accent – his next gig, new BBC drama Vigil, has even let him keep it.
But what does Wrigglesworth make of his accent work? This time, she’s not as sold, describing it as ‘a relatively good’ job but ‘not watertight’.
However, she continued: ‘Considering how different the sounds and rhythms are from his own accent I think it’s commendable.
‘Would I guess he’s not from the south of England? Yes. But he’s an actor, not a spy, and what he does also feels connected to his character.’
The Wild Mountain Thyme cast – ‘Too generalised’
Christopher Walken had a lot of natural quirks to iron out of his voice (Picture: HBO)
Although it was only released last week in the UK, movie-lovers have been aghast at what their ears were being subjected to from the moment the trailer dropped in June last year.
Emily Blunt and Christopher Walken needed to work on their Irish accents from scratch – but somewhat surprisingly, even Jamie Dornan – who is from Northern Ireland seemed to struggle with the rural brogue.
Reacting to the criticism he faced, Dornan recently told Sky News: ‘There’s so many dialects based on a very small island and I get the p*** taken out of me for the way I sound all the time, just as me.’
To start off, Wrigglesworth raised a fair point in defence of Wild Mountain Thyme’s beleaguered cast.
‘The challenge with portraying rural accents is that in reality they may lack clarity or not be fully understandable to a mainstream audience. However, in making them more “palatable” for an international audience they inevitably lose authenticity and lack accuracy,’ she said.
Moving onto Walken specifically, Wrigglesworth described it as ‘a big task’ for someone with such a ‘distinctive regional US accent and vocal pattern’ to embody rural Irish sounds.
Her verdict? ‘He may hit some of the right notes but the overall effect is too generalised.’
Kate Winslet in Mare of Easttown – ‘It doesn’t feel like she’s putting on an accent’
Kate ‘accent nerd’ Winslet (Picture: HBO)
On the other end of the scale, Kate Winslet has been impressing viewers with her southeastern Philadelphia accent as Mare Sheehan in new series Mare of Easttown.
Her long-time vocal coach recently revealed that Winslet is an ‘accent nerd’ so perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised by her mastering of the Delco tones.
Wrigglesworth was equally impressed, stating her love for Winslet’s accent work and praising its subtlety, detail and connection to character and her own voice.
And here’s the kicker, as Wrigglesworth continued: ‘It doesn’t feel like she’s putting on an accent; it feels like she’s playing a character who happens to be from a certain region.
‘This makes the audience feel relaxed about the sounds she’s making and forget that she’s doing an accent at all.’
Cillian Murphy in Peaky Blinders – ‘The accents seem iconic to the series’
Cillian Murphy tackles a notoriously tough Birmingham accent in Peaky Blinders (Picture: BBC/Caryn Mandabach/Robert Viglasky)
The Birmingham accent is one that can trip up many, with its blend of Welsh, West Country and Northern tones owing to its distinctive flatness.
Not a dialect heard much outside the UK, international hit Peaky Blinders has been responsible for introducing this regional variation to the world. But this is not just any Birmingham accent – this is an early 20th century Small Heath Birmingham accent.
Wrigglesworth is very much here for the accents, describing them as ‘iconic to the series’.
But what about your main man, Tommy Shelby (the Cork-born Cillian Murphy)?
She said: ‘Cillian Murphy does a seamless job of embodying the sounds of his character without a hint of his native sounds. He flattens the pitch without making it sound boring and uses completely different facial patterns to those in his own accent.’
So take note, accent aficionados – it’s not just about the sounds that you make, it’s also about how you move your face to make them.
Daniel Kaluuya in Judas and the Black Messiah – ‘Not a paint-by-numbers copy’
Daniel Kaluuya had the additional challenge of needing to sound like a real person, Black Panther Party activist Fred Hampton (Picture: Allstar/Warner Bros/Glen Wilson)
Daniel Kaluuya is fresh from his best supporting actor Oscar win, making him the first black British male to score an Academy Award.
What’s more impressive is, not only was Kaluuya displaying his American accent again (the level of which has often been commented on) but he was also playing a real person, Black Panther Party activist Fred Hampton, adding another layer of complexity to his dialect work.
What was our expert’s verdict?
‘This is an example of some really detailed accent work and an actor who worked closely with a dialect coach to ensure all the sounds were accurate and authentic,’ Wrigglesworth noted.
‘Like most successful portrayals of a real person this is not a paint by numbers copy of their voice; it’s a representation of their sound that still allows the actor have an emotional freedom within it.’
It sounds like he certainly earned that Oscar, then.
Finally, on the topic of the Academy Awards, lots of Brits playing Americans were nominated for Oscars this year – alongside Daniel there was Carey Mulligan, Gary Oldman, Riz Ahmed, Vanessa Kirby and Sacha Baron Cohen. So are British people just particularly good at American accents?
Carey Mulligan was one of six Brits Oscar-nominated this year for playing an American (Picture: Focus Features/AP)
Well, yes – kind of!
As well as pointing out that Brits are exposed to American accents through film and TV growing up, which gives us ‘more of a facility to perceive and reproduce subtle sounds’, Wrigglesworth also raised the argument of our own accents.
‘There are also a lot more accent variations in the UK so Brits may instinctively have more experience with hearing and making sound changes.’
These accents themselves require more work, too.
Wrigglesworth explained: ‘A lot of British accents use more lip rounding and shaping than US accents, so it could also be that British actors’ speech muscles are more adept at finding new patterns and sustaining them.’
So there you have it – now don’t trip on your way to collecting that Oscar.