One of the things that bugs me when watching historical films is when you go in to see a movie set in a particular part of the world, yet the accents are either laughably bad, or no attempt was made to even do a correct accent. For me, this usually takes away from the experience of the film. One of those films is a movie entitled Enemy at the Gates, which is the true story of a Russian and German sniper who square off against one another in the middle of the fight for Stalingrad during World War II. The major problem with the film, other than the somewhat boring story, is that, while the characters are supposed to be from Russia and Germany, almost none of the key actors attempt an accent for the movie (Except for Bob Hoskins, who delivers a terrific performance as Nikita Khrushchev). Russians speak with English accents, while the main German character, played by Ed Harris, has an American accent. It really takes away from the film’s authenticity, despite the look of the film, which is correct.
But what’s more, if the accents are dreadfully done, that can also make for a horrible experience. One example of this is the miniseries North and South. Now, some of the film’s principal actors deliver strong accents. But two of the most telling disasters of the series in terms of accents were Philip Casnoff (As Bent, the main villain of the series) and Terri Garber (as Ashton Maine). Garber’s South Carolinian accent comes off as goofy, while Casnoff over enunciates his Georgian accent, and becomes very laughable (With all credit to Mr. Casnoff, his southern accent in the films Ironclads and Heaven & Hell: North and South, Book III are vast improvements). While they don’t fully take away from the experience of the series, they are very problematic accents.
However, if the actors work hard with dialect coaches, and also do their own research to really get the essence of how the people from where their character came from talks, they can achieve a very authentic sound to the accents of the people they are portraying. Two films that really did a great job with accents are Gods and Generals (Give or take a couple of problematic performances), and the miniseries Hatfields & McCoys. In both cases, the actors worked with dialect coaches, who did their own research to discover the authentic sounds of the regions from where the characters came from. In addition, the actors did their own research and hard work. What resulted was a very authentic sound to the period, where the actors embodied those characters, and the accents came off as so real, that you forgot that the actors did not speak with that dialect in real life.
For Grant vs. Lee, the actors should spend as much time as they can learning the dialect of the characters they are going to portray. These characters come from many different parts of the country in the mid to late-19th Century. From the tidewater of Virginia, to the metropolitan cities, to countries on the other side of the world, each of the historical figures had a wide variety of accents. If the actors do their research, and work hard to create authentic accents, they will create a unique sound to the people of the period, and give the series a very authentic sound in terms of dialects spoken at the time.