What We Want To See, Volume V: Authentic Accents for Key Characters

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.

Ed Harris, who played an American-sounding German villain in “Enemy at the Gates.”

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.

Kevin Costner, who (for once) gave a realistic accent as “Devil Anse” Hatfield in “Hatfields & McCoys.”

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.

For more information on Grant vs. Lee, visit the Official Website, the official and fan site pages on Facebook, and the IMDb page for further news and updates.

About Steven Hancock

I am an avid student of American and World History, with a particular interest in the American Civil War. I am currently a student at American Public University, working toward a Master's Degree in United States History. I am also a Civil War Reenactor, donning the uniform of the common Union and Confederate soldier at reenactments throughout the year.
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11 Responses to What We Want To See, Volume V: Authentic Accents for Key Characters

  1. George Sleasman says:

    Dear Steve , what about the father Tillie Main , no accent what so ever, but a great mini series. There was a real George Hazard but he died in 1862, keep up the good work.

  2. Amelia says:

    Accents always ‘offend’ someone–perhaps it is better to go with a non-accent style rather than trying to guess at what people actually sounded like 150 years ago?! I’ve read where southerners sounded more English than northerners of that time (don’t have a clue if this is true) because of immigration patterns of the 1800s. I know I’ve heard some truly horrible southern accents.

  3. Meg Thompson says:

    Do you mean to tell me that Bent’s immortal words–I am a military genius!–weren’t perfectly delivered? Ah well. He got hung in the end, so there ya go.

  4. Dennis says:

    I thought Bob Hoskins was Terrible. He was cartoonish and way over the top.

  5. David Hubbard says:

    I am proud to be a ancestor of 17 Confederate Rebels and to say that my Virginia accent is authentic. Not to brag or stand on a soapbox, but there are certain words here in our area no one hears much anymore. Especially the Franklin County accent where Jubal Early came from. An example would be…. Now look, you done “ruined” it.
    In this area, it would be You done “Rernt ” it… or, I love being “against” the wall- I love being “again” the wall. Call me if you want to hear my “real” southern accent. 540-588-4347

  6. Kullervo says:

    Well, in the case of Enemy at the Gates, the characters wouldn’t be speaking English with German and Russian accents; they would be speaking German and Russian. So i can forgive a lot there.

    But for something set in the American Civil War, where English is the language anyway but regionalism is one of the major themes of the conflict, I would like to hear the dialects–the linguistic expression of regional culture–done right. And one generic TV-Southern accent for the Rebs (or even two!) won’t cut it.

  7. Michael O'Connor says:

    I disagree. The Russian and German accents would have reminded the audience that they were watching the actions of non-Americans, with all the things that come with not being American. I’ve frequently wondered why production companies don’t look harder for, say, German actors that speak English well to be in films, at least for supporting roles. Smacks of laziness.

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