You’d think being able to do the odd accent was an essential part of being an actor, but when it comes to sounding like a Londoner, it seems odd accents are all some actors can do. From wayward Westminster to wonky Cock-er-nee, here are the very best of the worst.
Don Cheadle in Ocean’s Eleven
The greatest trick the devil ever pulled off was convincing Don Cheadle he could sound like a grimy London criminal. He can’t. Though the results are hypnotic and we’d love a spin-off movie all about Basher Tarr please. Apparently, Cheadle watched 100 hours of non-stop Michael Caine performances to hone this masterpiece of bad mouthwork — but ended up taking his name off the film’s credits.
Charlie Hunnam in Green Street Hooligans
You have to pity poor Elijah Wood — the little lost American is here being coached in how to talk tough by a man whose accent is so ludicrous it would cause rival footy fans to guffaw Bovril through their nostrils. And since you ask, Hunnam is a Geordie, though there’s not a trace of anything from anywhere in the British Isles in anything he says.
Mischa Barton in St. Trinian's
You’d never believe she was born in Hammersmith, would you? Perhaps Barton should have taken her own advice as former St. Trinian's head-girl and PR guru to the stars JJ French: “Keep from talking, that’s the game.”
Shia LaBeouf in Nymphomaniac
The paper bag-wearing plagiarist’s name is an exact anagram of Bulshif Aieaoe — which is what you’ll be screaming after listening to his misfiring Londonese in Lars von Trier’s naughty and not particularly nice sex flick. (There's a bit more here — but be prepared to cringe).
Colin Farrell and Ewan McGregor in Cassandra's Dream
“What are we saying?” asks a deeply confused Ewan McGregor at the start of this trailer for Woody Allen’s misguided London-set crime caper. And no wonder he’s so befuddled; between him and on-screen bruvva Colin Farrell, the two chew through about six different accents in these three minutes alone. As Farrell says by the end: “I’m starting to fink I don’t know you Ian.” (There's bmore here).
Keanu Reeves in Dracula
Hard to know which is worse: Keanu's phoney accent or acting so wooden they could have used him as the stake to impale the vampire. He is possibly the most frightening thing about Francis Ford Coppola's soppy take on Bram Stoker.
Russell Crowe in A Good Year
The Crowe chooses a plummy public school accent to play condescending banker-wanker Max Skinner. It’s not that far off, but Crowe needs to be included on this list for his repeated crimes against accents (his roaming dialect in Robin Hood led him to storm out of this interview when Mark Lawson gave it faint praise).
Forest Whitaker in The Crying Game
The real twist of this otherwise cracking London thriller is not that she was a he — but rather that Mr Whitaker is not an undercover American agent who couldn’t quite do the accent. He just couldn’t quite do the accent.
Dick Van Dyke in Mary Poppins
Predictable perhaps, but DVD still sets the gold standard for full-blooded, half-cocked Cockney. And at least he has a bit of charm.
Dominic West in The Wire
This is the only honourable mention on the list as it involves a Russian doll-like nesting of accent work. Dominic West, originally from Yorkshire, shed that accent to take on the concentrated posh he learned at Eton. Then in The Wire he came to play the part of Jimmy McNulty, a working class Baltimore cop who then has to go undercover as an upper crust Brit. The resulting off-kilter accent is a very nice take-down of Americans failing in their cloth-lipped attempts to impersonate us. Take that Nicolas Cage.