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Game of British Accents
April 16, 2012 - By: - In: In the News / Awards - Comments Off on Game of British Accents

Peter Dinklage, performing as Tyrion Lannister, is one of the few American actors in the Game of Thrones cast.

Game of Thrones, the latest HBO blockbuster is all-American. The Hollywood extravaganza, based on the fantasy writing of US author George R. R. Martin, is a tale of North and South embroiled in civil war in a fantasy kingdom where everyone speaks with an English accent.

In the Game of Thrones, North and South are not Blue and Gray, but more Scottish and Welsh, at least when it comes to accents, as British dialect seem to be required for any American historical (or ahistorical) drama lacking six-shooters.

“Martin was inspired a great deal by European medieval history,” says Stephen Tierney, administrator of the Game of Thrones UK fan site. “As such his characters reflect that, and if you read the books and listen to the cadence of the characters’ voices you will find that they do sound more regionally British than they do American.

American TV audiences are renowned for their lack of tolerance of unfamiliar accents on-screen. But Brit accents are just familiar enough to American audiences that they serve nicely to provide local color, no matter where the locale happens to be. And thanks to a raft of British actors ready to step into the sandals of any costume drama role, Americans are getting more comfortable with the nuances of Brit accents.

My daughter is a junior at Stuyvesant High School, where every year the kids put heart and soul into a variety show called “SING!” The students plumb the depths of pop culture for inspiration, and it’s always interesting to see what they pull out of the global entertainment morass. The lead performers in theses shows are all Broadway summer-camp-trained, so they can belt out a tune like Ethyl Merman, and tap and hip-hop in the best local borscht-belt style, but their dramatic inspiration is always dipped in the  treacle of bad British accents. This year’s the Seniors’ performance (each class puts on its own show) featured Gandolf the Wizard, whose big laugh line, thundered again and again, was “You shall not pass!”  These kids are as infused as Earl Grey in this kind of pop-culture Britishness.

When I read “Lord of the Rings” when I was in high school, all of Tolkien’s Middle Earth language was new, outside my Gunsmoke and Midnight Movie reference points. But now kids approach Tolkien, or really any dramatic medium, from the perspective of Harry Potter, which is their cultural touch stone. These kids have grown up with the wonderful performances of some of Britain’s most talented actors, reprised in each release of the Harry Potter franchise. The mysterious shuffling stairs of Hogwarts are as familiar to the kids at Stuy as the jammed escalators they ride between their classes every day. They are the Harry Potter generation.

Lisa De Moraes, TV critic of the Washington Post says of American TV executives, “they will make an exception with fantasy drama, or costume drama, but the need to pull in big audiences – and to have lead characters with broad appeal – means they will not allow British actors to use their natural accents.”

Maybe so, but maybe not for long. I think Americans have a better ear for British dialect than they used to, thanks to Harry and the rest. I imagine the same is true for British exposed to the American equivalent of Masterpiece Theater, which I suppose would be Jersey Shore. Which gives me an excuse to close with this clip:


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