"And you never have Romans who are Italians! They're always played by some English actor going 'Oh Thomas, where is my brother, Fellatio? Bring him hither.'"
This trope is used in film and television fiction set in the past where characters speak with British accents, even though the film is not set in Britain and the characters are not British. Sometimes the actors are Fake Brits
, and sometimes the cast all have British accents except for the sole American star.
Giving the characters non-British accents (American, Australian, Canadian, etc.) ought to be just as acceptable as giving them British ones, but this is usually avoided, because it makes the characters sound "inauthentic
". Britain's long history causes British accents to seem somehow "older" — they are used to suggest a sense of age and grandeur.
In any case, using The Queen's Latin makes a series or film commercially viable in the US. It alleviates the need for subtitles, while maintaining the appearance of historical authenticity. It's ''just'' foreign and exotic enough.
(Many British actors already Play Great Ethnics
.) It's also no doubt inspired by productions of Shakespeare
's plays set in Ancient Rome. Remember: Romeo might have been Italian, but he's not realistic unless he talks like a proper British toff
This trope also allows for some subtle characterisation for UK audiences: sometimes regional British accents are used to reflect a character's class or social status by playing up to stereotypes in the collective British psyche. The most common convention, however, is to employ formal English parlance. Depending on the antiquity of the era portrayed, the characters may lapse into a form of Early Modern English, or its contrived cousin, Ye Olde Butcherede Englishe
Historical linguists have attempted to reconstruct the original Latin pronunciation
of the Romans, but no one knows for sure how they really
sounded. Some might say that the actors are Not Even Bothering with the Accent
, or trying to avoid using Just a Stupid Accent
, and in many cases this is true. The rule of thumb is that if non-British actors are affecting Brit accents, or if the British accents are being used to add layers to the characterisation, they are speaking The Queen's Latin
This trope leads many Ancient Roman characters to not only sound but also physically look like Anglo-Saxons rather than Romans. Historians have speculated that the average Roman man had tan or olive skin, usually dark hair, and stood about 5-foot-6, much like a modern Italian. The Roman Empire reached northern Europe, but Romans weren't all
A type of Translation Convention
and Coconut Effect
. Compare with Accent Adaptation
Anime and Manga
- The Manga UK dub of The Heroic Legend of Arslan has the voice actors using British accents (Most of their other dubs used fake American accents while reading their lines with British inflections and sentence structure). The Central Park Media dub of episodes 5 and 6 averts this, with the New York voice actors using their own accents.
- Enemy Ace: War in Heaven provides an unusual print example. Every major character in the series is German, but Northern Irish writer Garth Ennis gives them analogous "British equivalent" accents and dialects for their social class. It's striking, and a bit jarring to comics readers used to the stilted "Achtung! Gott in Himmel!" Just a Stupid Accent approach to German characters, but oddly effective.
- In Marvel Comics, mythic figures like Thor and Hercules almost alway speak in a faux-Shakespearean dialect - using stiltedly formal diction and throwing around words like "forsooth" and "verily," often in a stylized font - rather than even try to guess at how an ancient Norse god or ancient Greek demigod would speak. (Of course, being gods and not humans, they'd most likely talk - and look - however the devil they wanted.)
- Being the sea explorers that Vikings often were (not to mention he's an actual God), it's not unlikely that Thor might have picked up some medieval English in the past. Though he'd probably use general Scandinaviannote grammar and sentence structure. Also, his accent would probably sound similar to Björks. (In fact, his native language would probably be VERY similar to Icelandic.)
- In the film Valkyrie, all the actors speak with their natural accents: Tom Cruise (Stauffenberg) speaks General American, Kenneth Branagh speaks RP, Matthias Freihof (Himmler), speaks with a German accent, etc. The only exception is David Bamber (Hitler), who affects a German accent.
- Branagh's natural accent is Belfast; his adopted working accent is RP.
- A review snarked that with all the well known British actors in the cast it felt like a Harry Potter movie.
- Caligula has the cast using British accents to denote social and class hierarchy.
- Gladiator had a cast who used British accents, despite its three main stars being from Australia (Russell Crowe), Puerto Rico/America (Joaquin Phoenix) and Denmark (Connie Nielsen).
- The Spartans in 300 speak with British accents. Leonidas has a noticeably Scottish accent. This somewhat coincidentally, falls in line with a very long-standing convention used in translating Greek Comedy (which uses accent gags extensively): Attic Greek (used by the Athenians) is represented as the Queen's English, whereas Doric Greek (used by the Spartans) is represented by Scots. This equation is so widespread that there is even a variety of Scots that is actually referred as Doric.
- Ben Hur had all of its Romans played by Brits, its Hebrews played by Americans, and its one Arab guy played by... a Welshman with a generic Arabian accent.
- Specifically, by Hugh Griffith, the John Rhys-Davies of the mid-20th century.
- In the American-produced movie Spartacus, all the decadent Romans were play by Britons, while the slaves—a mixed bunch historically, but some of them would have been Roman/Italian by birth—were all played by Americans. Per some film critics, this represented a common trope in Hollywood film-making of the period, in which British accents represented decadent modern Europe, while American accents represented normalcy. Spartacus's love interest was played by English actress Jean Simmons, so to maintain continuity, it is mentioned in the film that the character was born in Britain.
- Simmons also turns up as the gentle tavern maid in The Egyptian. If you were a strong warrior type or a rough customer in that picture you were played by an American; if you were a noble, elegant or sensitive creature, you were played by a Brit. And that includes Qaptah the thief — after all, he'd tell you that he was a noble, elegant and sensitive creature.
- Les Miserables 1998, despite the fact that the characters are French. Geoffrey Rush, Uma Thurman, and Claire Danes all fake English accents, although Liam Neeson retains his Hibernian intonation.
- The same goes for the 2012 film, with a cast of Brits, Americans, and Australians speaking in British accents.
- 2007's Beowulf does something like this: although the Zealanders speak in fake, but at least subtle, Danish accents — Grendel even speaks Old English — the Geats speak in the actors' natural accents, which means that the title character, since he's played by Ray Winstone, is a Cockney ("I'm 'ere to kiw your monstah."), and Wiglaf speaks in an attempt at a Welsh accent.
- In Alexander, the Macedonian characters are given Irish accents, while the Greeks are given English and Scottish accents, to represent the ethnic divide within Alexander's army. Furthermore, the Greeks are given a number of regional accents, to subtly remind the viewer that Greece was traditionally a number of independent city-states, and not a natural nation-state. "Barbarians" are all given broad regional accents.
- In The Prince Of Egypt, all the Egyptians have English accents, and the Hebrews and Midianites sound American. One would think Moses might have realized something was up with his parentage long before Miriam clued him in, given that he had the only American accent in Pharaoh's palace.
- Rise of Evil gives Adolf Hitler a mild British accent.
- This is the case in the 2004 movie of Phantom of The Opera—although subverted in the case of Madame Giry, played by British actress Miranda Richardson, who is seemingly the only nineteenth-century Parisian who actually speaks with a French accent. Considering that everyone else—whether Scottish, English, or American—just speaks in their regular voices, though, you kind of wonder why she bothered.
- In The Last Temptation of Christ, all the Romans have British accents and the Jews have American accents (including Harvey Keitel's much-mocked Brooklyn accent as Judas).
- Averted in Sofia Coppola's Marie Antoinette. The actors speak in their normal accents: Kirsten Dunst (Marie Antoinette) speaks in a General American accent, Rip Torn (Louis XV) speaks in a mild Texas accent, Steve Coogan (Ambassador Mercy) speaks with a British accent, Jason Schwartzman speaks with a General American accent. (It helps that the movie is done in a tongue-in-cheek style, complete with punk and new-wave music on the soundtrack).
- In Dangerous Liaisons the upper-class characters played by John Malkovich, Uma Thurman and Glenn Close speak plain American English, while the servants have broad Cockney accents.
- In The Duellists all the characters are French but most of the cast except the two American leads are British.
- In The Lord of the Rings, the elves speak with English accents. Viggo Mortensen as Aragorn, who is supposed to be raised by elves, speaks the (human language) with an affected, slightly questionable English accent, but retains his natural Danish-American accent for speaking Elvish.
- And then Eowyn can't decide whether she has an English or Yankee accent.
- Peter Jackson has stated that the reason they let Billy Boyd keep his Scottish accent is because Tolkien based the North-farthing on Scotland, which is the place where many Tooks live, while also noted for hills and having invented Middle-Earth's version of golf.
- In Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, all of the characters have British accents, whether played by actual Brits or not. This is consistent with the Sands of Time game, on which the movie is based.
- Ever After has British English spoken by people (including Drew Barrymore) supposedly living in 16th-century France, as well as Leonardo Da Vinci.
- In the Marquis de Sade biopic Quills, everyone speaks in British accents, despite being 19th century Frenchmen — even the guy played by Joaquin Phoenix.
- The Affair Of The Necklace is another film set in France. All the characters speak with British accents (even King Louis and Marie Antoinette!) save for two: Simon Baker, who couldn't seem to decide whether he wanted to be quasi-Aussie or quasi-English before giving up and just doing some odd blend of the two; and Hillary Swank, who doesn't use an accent at all and talks in full-on American that is just jarring. To add to the confusion, she intones some of her sentences like a British speaker would, turning them up at the ends.
- Parodied in History of the World Part I with Marcus Vindictus (Shecky Greene) who speaks in a erudite British accent and pronounces "Rome" by rolling his 'R's.
- If you listen very closely, you can easily tell that the heroine of Disney's Atlantis: The Lost Empire actually has a British-sounding accent. Apparently this is also one of few animations starring Cree Summer (the actress who voiced her in this film) attempting to do a British accent.
- Avoided in Interview with the Vampire. Cruise, Dunst, and Pitt all speak with cultivated American diction.
- In Troy, most of the cast seem to be using their native accents. Brad Pitt might be attempting a British accent, but it sounds rather Americanized. Sean Bean even uses his native Northern British accent instead of a more cultivated one. Curiously, the only performers conspicuously not using their native accents are the two Australians, Eric Bana and Rose Byrne. One has to assume that the director/producer felt that the Aussie accent was the only one that couldn't be believably set in Ancient Times.
- Aladdin averts this with the titular Aladdin and his love interest Princess Jasmine, who both have American accents, but play this straight with Jasmine's father the Sultan and Big Bad Jafar.
- The Show Within a Show in Singin' in the Rain takes place among the French aristocracy during The Cavalier Years. This naturally requires dialect training for leading lady Lina Lamont and her very nasal Bronx accent (although the other characters already consider her voice grating anyway).
- Life Is Beautiful, dubbed into English, keeps the Italian and German accents of the characters. Thanks to The Coconut Effect, it sounds like some sort of racist joke.
- The Roman soldiers in Night at the Museum. Because they're not "real" Romans but miniatures, and since the spell bringing them to life also gives a T-Rex the traits of a dog, it's possible that the spell sort of "imitates" people's expectations or something, and therefore the soldiers' accents are actually caused by this trope's prevalence.
- In Hugo, set in a Parisian train station, the French characters are almost all played by British actors using their natural accents, apart from American Chloe Moretz, who is faking a British accent.
- Native Australian Chris Hemsworth plays Thor in the Marvel Comics films with a rather stylized "classical" English accent (as opposed to, say, a Scandanavian one). In The Avengers this is Played for Laughs when Tony Stark refers to one of Thor's speeches as "Shakespeare in the Park" and proceeds to imitate him.
- In the Star Wars films, the Coruscanti accent (both refined and coarse) is rendered as British, while the Corellian accent is American. Naboo appears to have both.
- In The Princess Bride, almost every character in the nation of Florin not identified as being from elsewhere speaks with a British accent of some sort, even though the word "florin" is Italian in origin.
- In The Mask of Zorro, both Don Diego and Don Rafael (the first Zorro and his archnemesis) speak with British accents despite being Mexican, partly because they are of the nobility, partly because they're played by British actors Anthony Hopkins and Stuart Wilson. The other Dons all have Hispanic accents, however.
- The BBC/HBO drama Rome, in which all of the characters speak in various English accents according to their backgrounds and roles. For example, Julius Caesar speaks with an upper-class accent, befitting his position as one of Rome's upper classes, while soldier Titus Pullo speaks with a faint Geordie accent, implying working-class origins. Several actors cover over their Irish accents to play Romans as British.
- I Claudius uses regionalised British accents to fit the characters' personalities and class. Of course, I Claudius was a British production.
- In the lonelygirl15 episode "Zodiac of Denderah", a British upper-class accent is used to imitate the French aristocracy.
- Subverted in the Roman section of Blackadder Back and Forth. The Roman characters start off speaking in The Queen's Latin until an officer arrives who congratulates them on practicing the local (British) language and then continues in actual Latin. Rule of Funny applies, as the actual local language at this time would be akin to an archaic form of Welsh.
- Doctor Who
- When Rose Tyler asks the Ninth Doctor why, as an alien, he speaks with a northern (English) accent, he replies: "Lots of planets have a north."
- Also played with in the second episode of the fourth series, when Donna asks the Doctor as they walk through the streets of Pompeii, what would happen if she said to one of the locals 'Veni, vidi, vici', given that the TARDIS translates everything you say and everything anyone else says of its own accord. The Doctor's response was to suggest she try it out, resulting in the reply from the (British-accented) stall keeper she said it to, 'Wot? Me No Speak-o Celtic.' Apparently, the TARDIS translates Latin into Ancient Britonic, i.e. Welsh.
- One official Doctor Who short story - "The Man Who Wouldn't Give Up" in Short Trips: Past Tense - suggests the TARDIS Translation Circuits have an odd sense of humour, and give people BBC accents because they think it's funny.
- Referenced in Slings and Arrows. The character who plays Hamlet tries to find English accent tapes until another character points out that Hamlet is actually Danish, so he gives up.
- Spartacus Blood And Sand has the Roman characters all speaking in approximations of an upper-class English accent. The gladiators have an array of accents, given their varied origins.
- Game of Thrones, despite being an American HBO adaptation of novels by an American author, stars mainly British and Irish actors speaking with English accents. The relatively few non-Brits required to speak English (rather than Dothraki) do pretty good English accents. The types of accent tend to vary quite widely even among families, but the Starks and other northern families do generally have variations on various northern english accents and fit the 'blunt, tough, uncomplicated' stereotypes (they also tend to be physically buffer than their southern counterparts), while the richest, most powerful southern families like the Lannisters have much posher, highly affected accents more associated with villainy.
- This is due to the fact that the series' characters represent a Fantasy Counterpart Culture to the British Isles, with accents (and locations — King's Landing = London etc) that approximate the geography of the country. The whole tale is a thinly veiled reference to the histtoric War of the Roses, a power-struggle fought in England between the houses of York and Lancaster (AKA Stark and Lannister).
- In Season Two, the show has started to assign specific non-English accents to people from outside Westeros. Shae and Jaqen H'gar, both from Lorath, are played by German actors, who speak in their native accents.
- The Borgias is full of British accents, though the French characters actually do have French accents. It's just all the Italians that are British.
- The 1977 miniseries Jesus of Nazareth was dubbed "Jesus of Cambridge."
- Both Booker T and his wife Sharmell attempted British accents (Sharmell semi-successfully, Booker less so) when Booker became "King of the Ring" in 2006, even though they continued to be billed as residents of Houston, Texas.
- It was once humorously noted in Time magazine that there is a radio dramatization of the Koran that is read by a British person. So even Allah has a British accent!
- Many productions of William Shakespeare's plays will feature actors attempting an English accent to say their lines, even though the settings of his plays varied widely. This is obviously because Shakespeare wrote the dialogue in Elizabethan English and his plays are always heavily associated with English culture. Elizabethan accents hardly sound anything like modern English accents.
- This trope should (theoretically) be averted in Macbeth because the Scottish accents for the Scottish characters are written into the script. Still, many productions still give Macbeth a Upper-Class English accent.
- Amusingly inverted in an episode of Boy Meets World in which Stewart Minkis is cast as Hamlet. Having read that Elizabethan-era English sounded quite similar to Appalachian dialects in America, he attempts to play Hamlet with a 19th-century frontier inflection and ends up sounding like Gomer Pyle.
- An interesting variation on this trope comes from translations of Ancient Greek plays, most noticeably in ancient Greek comedies. Nearly every extant play contains at least one joke based on ancient Greek accents. This means that a translator or director needs to delineate some of the dialog with a different accent. British accents are often used, partially because many of the translators are British themselves and those are they accents their most familiar with. Other times the trope is averted, such as when an American gives Spartans a Texas accent to play up the "militant hick" perception.
- In many productions of Gilbert and Sullivan operettas, the actors will put on British accents, even when the operetta in question doesn't take place in England (e.g. The Mikado, in Japan).
- This is often to get Gilbert's rhyming and/or puns to work (consider the "Orphan/Often" joke in The Pirates of Penzance) and because a British accent makes it far easier to navigate a Patter Song understandably, given the (modern, upper-class) British accent's consonant clarity.
- That joke requires some creative work with pronunciation to make it work even for an English audience (or at least for the couple of people who haven't seen the play before...) The accent which pronounces "often" as "orf'n" is not only posh, but also a sufficiently old-fashioned version of "posh" that it doesn't correspond with what most people nowadays think of as "the posh accent". So the actors have to perform tricks like turning the "old-fashioned-posh" accent Up to Eleven for their preceding half-dozen or so lines in order to make sure the audience are thinking in terms of the right sort of accent when the joke comes along.
- The 2009 revival of A Little Night Music, a musical set in Sweden, was/is performed with British accents by the cast, most of them fake Brits, with the notable exception of Angela Lansbury. This is exacerbated by the fact that they all speak with different flavors of British accent, with no logic given or implied as to the variance.
- The 2008 concert version of Chess has an odd inversion, with the British Kerry Ellis affecting an American accent to play a Russian character (the other major Russian characters were played by Americans, one affecting a Russian accent and one not bothering).
- In the original production of The Phantom of the Opera, American Steve Barton (who played Raoul) faked a British accent, despite his character being French. The cast as a whole speaks with a British accent even in American productions of the musical. It is debatable whether this is because of this trope, or because they attempt to sound like the original British cast.
- Since Phantom is nearly sung through, it could have something to do with the fact that pronunciation and diphthongs when singing in English tend to take on a more British pronunciation (for example, singing "The phantom of the opera is here!" with an American twang is frowned upon)
- Wyatt Cenac discusses this in his comedy special when talking about what the Medieval Times shows will be like in the future. In the future, they will be about American gang violence, and they will all have British accents.
- Discussed by Eddie Izzard, with the part of Caesar played by his impression of James Mason. Which is also his favourite voice for God, incidentally.
- All of the characters in the fantasy RPG Arcanum: Of Steamworks and Magick Obscura seem to have British accents, with the exception of Virgil, who is voiced by an American who sounds like he's trying to sound vaguely English. Certainly, his dialogue (replete with words like "bloody" and "bugger") is written to sound like it's come from a Brit.
- The English translation of Final Fantasy XII used this to replace the different Japanese ways of talking: dashing sky-pirate Balthier was given an English accent, whereas Princess Ashe was given a soft high-class American accent. (Fran speaks with a Welshy...Indo...Iri...Scot...Russi...Armenian - okay, no one knows, but it's an accent.) Al-Cid speaks in an accent that has been called an odd hybrid of Spanish and Russian. The grunts of the Archadian Empire tend to have particularly thuggish London accents. The people of Bhujerba speak with Indian accents.
- In fact, Balthier's accent actually gives away his heritage, since each region seems to speak its own dialect, with the Archadians speaking with the British accents, citizen of Rabanastra to speaking with American accents, the one Rozzarian we hear speak has a Spanish accent, and so on.
- Ondore's accent is vaguely...Scottish or something. Or Gaelic/Irish/Celtic. He's the narrator, by the way.
- Likewise Dragon Quest VIII gives most important character British accents for regional accent conversion.
- Exceptions: Morrie, the eccentric owner of the Monster Arena, is voiced with an Italian accent and Italian words peppered through his dialogue, the entire city of Baccarat (which is centered around an enormous casino and hotel) is apparently American, and the snowy northern region of Orkutsk is very obviously Russian.
- Most of the characters were given various kinds of British accents. Pickham residents, for example, all speak cockney, Princess Minnie speaks with the Royal We, and the owner of the Sabrecat Trust speaks with an upper class RP so ludicrously pompous that it's played for laughs. His assistant Tom speaks...something.
- Chrono Cross translates different Japanese dialects into differently accented versions of English. One major character, Kid, speaks with an Australian accent. And it's all done through text - the game has no voice acting.
- Prince Of Persia The Sands Of Time gives His Highness the Title Character a British accent. Farah, an Indian princess, speaks with the hybrid accent of an Indian person educated by British English speakers, which is actually a common enough accent in the modern world. When Prince of Persia: The Two Thrones rolls around, Farah's been
developed genericised into an Action Girl, and has a gruff American accent.
- The Prince acquired an American accent when he went all "Badass" in Prince Of Persia Warrior Within, as well. Luckily, the original voice actor came back for The Two Thrones, though he was actually Canadian.
- It's even better than that - the actor in the second game is actually English.
- In the Myst games, Philadelphia-born Rand Miller for some reason gives Atrus a fluctuating mid-Atlantic accent (it should be noted that in "real life" Atrus would have spoken the English of Samuel Pepys).
- Confusingly, in current Myst canon we are meant to understand that the original Myst game really was just a game "based on" the "real" events of Myst, with only the events of the game Uru and onward to be taken as "accurate" depictions of what "really happened". All anachronisms can be retconned this way.
- Not to mention how much his D'ni accent sucks. Of course, everyone's D'ni sucks... and Yeesha, the only character to use it in Uru, gets it even worse.
- Knights of the Old Republic has several British-accented characters in both games; Bastila, being portrayed by a Canadian, is the only non-native accent. An honorable mention goes to Louis Mellis, playing Darth Sion - using his native accent, he is aScottish Zombie Sith. Although it seems to be Jennifer Hale's (she who voiced Bastila) hat to speak with a faux British accent.
- In Rome: Total War, a slight variation of the tropes is presented: the Romans all speak with throaty American accents, while everyone else, the Gauls, Carthaginians, Egyptians, Spaniards, Greeks, etc. speak in a sort of generic "foreign" accent, with much rolling of R's and slurring of syllables. And to make it all more confusing: the game's British.
- Spartan: Total Warrior is also guilty. Every single Roman uses some form of British accent from the vaguely cockney legionnaires to the cut-glass accent of Sejanus
- In Dragon Age: Origins, nearly every human is British (Claudia Black, although Australian, has always done a great British accent), except for the occasional character from the Empire of Orlais, who are depicted as essentially being French. Elves and Dwarves are almost universally American (except for Zevran, who has an outrageous Spanish 'Antivan' accent).
- The Fable series are bad for it, too; everyone comes from somewhere in the British Isles.
- It should be noted that it is set in Albion, the oldest known name for Great Britain. Not to mention the Union Jack underwear...
- Well, seeing as the game is created by a British company, it'd be more of a surprise if the voice actors didn't use their native accents.
- The Roman-themed city building game Caesar III has generally British sounding voices, as does the Praetorians RTS.
- In Metal Gear Solid 3, Sokolov, a Russian, appears to speak with a British accent.
- This trope's lampshaded in The Cinema Snob's review of Caligula, which featured cameos from That Guy with the Glasses contributors impersonating Caligula. Then Film Brain pops in pissed off that he didn't get to impersonate Caligula, particularly since he actually was British (and therefore had the British accent) unlike the others (who didn't even bother faking one).