4 Times actors butchered an Irish accent

By Laura Varley / November 18, 2020

When you think of an Irish accent, you may think of rural, “culchie” Mayo, the lilt of Corkonians, the slightly inaudible people of Kerry. It might be the selectively deep and selectively high-pitched Northern accents or the many multitude of Dublin brogue. You could be a D4, South-side, North Side and so on. The point being, there isn’t just one Irish accent. For such a small island we play host to an almost ridiculous number of distinct dialects. That is why when you see movies such as Wild Mountain Thyme and foreign actors are hired to play Irish characters, it is imperative that they know their region and study the accents. The success of a film can hinge on this very detail and it is therefore shocking that more often than not actors, when tackling Irish roles, do not do their due diligence. The following is a look at films whose actors’ failure to study their characters’ origins damaged the quality of their film and begged the question, “would it really have been that difficult to hire an Irish actor?”

Wild Mountain Thyme

Okay, so I know this film has not been released yet, but surely the trailer is enough to condemn it. John Patrick Shanley’s harshly criticised cast includes household names, such as Emily Blunt, Christopher Walken, John Hamm and Jamie Dornan. The plot, recycled from every diddly-dee Irish knock-off ever made, includes the typical concepts of an awkward land deal, a foreigner interested in said land, shawls, literally all the shawls and folk-tales told by an old man, in an old cottage, in an old-timey way. If this sounds familiar then that’s because it is. It seems the majority of non-Irish writers and directors have taken this kind of schtick to be standard for the green isle and don’t think far beyond mass producing it. British Emily Blunt’s Rosemary seemingly spends her days running around the farm, her face smeared in dirt and her accent bordering on a hate crime. Jamie Dornan, born and bred on the island of Ireland, plays the strong, rugged Anthony with an accent that sounds more leprechaun than native, but it is American Christopher Walken’s Tony who truly butchers the dialect. With his standard harsh inflections he is just playing himself, throwing in a couple of Irish sayings to confuse the masses into thinking he is one of them. In all honesty if any Irish man spoke the way Walken does we would think he had the hiccups. This entire film seems like one long, drawn-out hiccup. The painful kind that compels you to stand on your head and drown yourself in water until it’s all over.

Leap Year

Leap year, the 2010 rom-com directed by Anand Tucker, is quite possibly the worst offender on this list. I watched this film a few years ago and it angers me on an almost daily basis that I will never get that hour and forty minutes back. It utilises every stereotype and cliche in the book, but let me clarify, I don’t have a massive issue with stereotypes. I think often they come with a grain of truth and if used cleverly with respect for others, they can be very witty. This film does not do that. Rather, it takes every ugly, negative and frankly in-sensitive cliche about the “backwards” Irish and runs with it. The plot begins with Amy McAdams following her reluctant boyfriend to a conference in Ireland, where she intends to propose to him on the Leap Day, as Irish tradition dictates on this day a man can not refuse. Because yes, that is a solid foundation on which to build a marriage, force and an ancient tradition. When she arrives in a wet, run-down and over-all miserable looking Dingle she meets the town’s drunken buffoons, a greedy tavern owner and a sulky Irishman almost immediately. She gets robbed, steps in cow dung, only has ham sandwiches to eat and is refused a room in a conservative hotel as she is unmarried, before she falls for Matthew Goode’s Declan O’ Callaghan. At one point Amy knocks out the entire village’s electricity when she plugs in her phone. And believe it or not but none of that is as insulting as  Englishman Matthew Goode’s Irish accent, which is a disturbing mix of gruffness, zero enunciation and a mid-atlantic twang. In fact even it’s lead actor revealed he knew that the film would be unpopular but that he wanted to be stationed near his partner and child. 

Michael Collins

It is unfair really to have an outstanding film such as Michael Collins on this list and for the most part the acting and accents are exemplary, but Julia Roberts’ turn as Kitty Kiernan was simply horrendous. Thankfully the cast, including Liam Neeson, Stephen Rea, Alan Rickman and Aiden Quinn, were mostly Irish or adept at accents, but it was absolute madness to hire the American Roberts. Her attempt at an Irish drawl deviated between the stereotypical culchie sound and an “Oirish” lilt and ultimately proved extremely distracting. Particularly in intensely emotional scenes, which you can imagine makes up the majority of the movie. To make matters worse she was a two-time offender, warbling her way through Mary Reilly, for which she was Razzie nominated. So irritatingly dreadful was her accent it undermined almost every scene she appeared in, but Michael Collins is still one of the greatest Irish films of all time. Even a bad Irish accent couldn’t change that. 

Far and Away

I think everyone knew this was coming, because no list would be complete without mentioning Tom Cruise’s role in Far and Away. It turns out this particular mission for Cruise was impossible, because he completely over-shot the mark with his ill-informed and frankly embarrassing Irish accent. The convoluted plot, involving ghosts, homicide-inducing land deals and fist-fights, is a 1 hour and forty minute nightmare. The film practically defines the word “paddywhackery” and almost every list in relation to bad accents will have this film on it. Seriously, have a look and see for yourself. The problem is not just in its casting of Americans and Australians to play its leads, but the failure of its American director, Ron Howard, to actually expect non-Irish actors to at least make a decent effort. 

Ultimately, there is nothing wrong with hiring a foreign actor for a film part, truly it is at the discretion of the director and casting agent, however, if you do choose to hire non-native actors, you have a responsibility to approach the story with a degree of respect and knowledge. Something the people on this list failed to do and overall it affected the quality of their film. 

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Laura Varley

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