In Depth

Five of the very worst British film accents

As news arrives that the French think Brits have the world's second-sexiest accents, here are a few that fell short

A survey published this week by the French newspaper Le Parisien showed that to French ears, the British have the "second-sexiest foreign accent" in the world.

Falling just short of the sonorous Italians, Brits heading across the Channel for their summer holidays will no doubt now make even more noise than usual.

It's not the first time the British accent has received praise from abroad, and there is no shortage of foreigners attempting to mimic it. Their efforts, however, may fall short of British (and French) expectations.

Dick Van Dyke, Mary Poppins (1964)

For many the undisputed epitome of bad British accents, Dick Van Dyke's remarkably confident take on the Cockney dialect for Disney's Mary Poppins has raised smiles - and eyebrows - for more than 50 years.

His earnest portrayal of the excitable Bert, a street performer, artist and chimneysweep, is "largely indecipherable and permanently distracting", says Shortlist, yet others, including the Daily Telegraph, believe his endearing efforts have become "part of the film's charm".

Van Dyke has defended his efforts, saying that he "was working with an entire English cast and nobody said a word, not Julie [Andrews], not anybody said I needed to work on it so I thought I was alright". However, when receiving a Bafta award last month, he remarked: "I appreciate this opportunity to apologise to the members of Bafta for inflicting on them the most atrocious Cockney accent in the history of cinema."

Anne Hathaway, One Day (2011)

American actress Anne Hathaway was given the unenviable task of affecting a Yorkshire accent for 2011's romantic drama One Day. And, as the critics let her know, it didn't work.

"I was so distracted, wondering what version of the mother tongue she was going to attempt next — veering from wartime-BBC to proper 'Eeee by gum' clangers — I actually forgot to cry," wrote the Huffington Post.

Hathaway had previously had a stab at received pronunciation in 2007's Becoming Jane, but since appears to have learnt the error of her ways. "I used to think that I was the bee's knees when it came to a British accent, but now I know better," she said in 2014. "It's still not really in my repertoire."

Shia LaBeouf, Nymphomaniac (2013)

Danish director Lars Von Trier's 2013 sex drama Nymphomaniac was a brutally challenging watch, with visceral sex scenes, uncompromising violence and Shia LaBeouf as a British office manager - although not everyone realised that he was trying to play an Englishman. His efforts did at least bring unintentional comic relief to an otherwise grim film. 

Russell Crowe, Robin Hood (2010)

An accent so confused that it led to an on-air argument and walk-out, Russell Crowe's vocal work on Ridley Scott's 2010 Robin Hood bounced all over the British Isles. Audiences detected elements of Irish, Northern Irish, Scottish, Northern English and - of course - Kiwi accents in his auditory world tour.

But when Mark Lawson praised Crowe for unearthing the Celtic roots of the Robin Hood story on BBC Radio 4, the actor responded furiously, telling Lawson he had "dead ears" before storming out of the interview.

Keanu Reeves, Dracula (1992)

In a true stinker of a turn in Francis Ford Coppola's 1992 adaptation of Dracula, Keanu Reeves plays an upper-class English solicitor — a performance that involves elongating his vowels to improbable proportions and stressing unexpected syllables. 

Some have suggested that Reeve's efforts are enough to displace Van Dyke's as the worst movie accent of all time. It's "truly terrible", says the Daily Telegraph. "A literal horror show," says Time magazine.


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