"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 (or a fantasy counterpart culture heavily based on 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 antiquity. This is actually inaccurate from a linguistic perspective; the modern British accents actually represent a more evolved form of English. Older English accents were closer to modern Irish and American accents.
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
. In any case, it is perhaps British audiences who expect this trope to be ubiquitous most of all - to an American or Australian the use of their native accent for ancient characters could at least be a believable translation convention, to British ears it smacks of deliberately choosing an accent with entirely the wrong connotations - new-world modernity and the rejection of old-world traditions.
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 (Greek, Trojan, etc.) 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 hairnote
, and stood about 5-foot-6, much like a modern Italian. The Roman Empire reached northern Europe, but Romans weren't all
northern Europeans. (This particular bit of Creator Provincialism
also leads, even more egregiously, to Biblical characters- ancient people from the Middle East- looking a lot like North Europeans in North European art. Admittedly the artists possibly weren't aware they might have looked rather different, and if they were, the inauthenticity probably wouldn't have troubled artistic sensibilities until fairly recently.)
A type of Translation Convention
and Coconut Effect
. Compare with Accent Adaptation
. See also British Nazis
, when you have British actors playing characters from (or substitutes of) a far more notorious empire.
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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 god would speak. (Of course, being gods and not humans, they'd most likely talk - and look - however the Hel/Hades 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.)
Films — Animated
- 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.
- 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.
- In the animated version of the Gospels, "The Miracle Maker", the Peter and the other Galileans speak with a vaguely Scots accent, the lower-class Jerusalemites speak London, and the aristocrats and Romans speak RP.
Films — Live-Action
- In The Space Trilogy, by C. S. Lewis, we meet Merlin, who as a 5th century Briton (he put himself in a trance for when he would be needed in modern times) speaks a form of Celticized Latin. It apparently sounds something like modern-day Spanish.
- 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 Masada, the Roman characters are all played by British actors. The Jewish characters are all played by American actors.
- 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
- Rose Tyler asks the Ninth Doctor, "If you're from another planet, why do you sound like you're from the north [of England]?" "Lots of planets have a north!"
- Also played with in the second episode of the fourth series: on the streets of Pompeii, Donna asks the Doctor 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 suggests she try it out; she does so, and a stall-keeper replies (in the style of an English shopkeeper) 'Sorry love, I don't speak Celtic.' Apparently, the TARDIS translates Latin into Ancient Britonic, i.e. Welsh.
- Not Gaulish? (Wouldn't an average Roman say 'Gaulish' rather than 'Celtic'?)
- 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.
- There's a theory that Captain Picard in Star Trek: The Next Generation is actually speaking French the whole time and the Universal Translator renders his voice into English as a classy British accent as either a dynamic equivalent of the dialect of French he speaks—presumably a posh, educated form of Standard/Metropolitan French—or simply because it suits his personality. (The other theory is that by the 24th century, the English and French have been fighting and screwing for so long that they've exchanged accents.)
- 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 historic 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. Carice van Houten speaks in her native Dutch accent, although Asshai is on the opposite end of the known world from Lorath.
- 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."
- The Sam Raimi shows Hercules The Legendary Journeys and Xena: Warrior Princess mostly avert this, giving characters from Ancient Greek history and myth American accents. This can actually lead to some weird areas, since the shows are filmed in New Zealand, where accents naturally fall somewhere between British and Australian.
- A TV dramatisation of the life of Queen Boudicca ascribed upper-class British accents to the Romans - the general advising Emperor Caligula about the British rebellion speaks in the clipped precise tones of a Sandhurst professional officer. Whereas the revolting British tribesmen spoke in lower-class regional accents. The Iceni, not unreasonably, spoke broad Norfolk, whereas the Brigantians (from the North) spoke blunt Yorkshire.
- Because all of the actors, who play a variety of characters, in Horrible Histories are British, the Romans tend to be The Queen's Latin. There's also The Queen's Greek, Egyptian, and Aztec, although for more modern cultures like France or Germany they sometimes use a fake accent.
- A Young Doctors Notebook, based on the semi-autobiographical works of Mikhail Bulgakov, is of course set in Russia (partly in 1917 and partly in 1934). The series being a British production, everyone has a British accent—including Jon Hamm. (Or at least, Jon Hamm attempts a British accent). In fairness, Hamm does play an older version of Daniel Radcliffe, so they must have figured that although the space of 17 years could plausibly give the young doctor an extra six inches in height, a wider frame, and different facial features, him having a different accent would be a bridge too far.
- Pompeii The Last Day predictably has many of the characters speak like this, it being a BBC production with British actors.
- 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 God 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Downplayed in Fire Emblem Awakening. Characters will often drop British words such as "arse" and "mummy" into their sentences, but the vast majority of the cast possesses American accents so the trope is only reflected in their choice of vocabulary.
- 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 is 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: Snake Eater, Sokolov, a Russian, appears to speak with a British accent. All of the other Russians are played with American accents, with the exception of Sokolov's rival, Granin...who speaks with a Russian accent. Then again, he's drunk, and may actually be speaking English in that scene.
- Ryse: Son of Rome plays this very, very straight as well. At least it's justified for the Britannians you're fighting...
- 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).