As we embark upon a heartbreakingly housebound St Patrick’s Day, Adam White recalls the long history of dodgy Irish accents in film
The Irish accent is consistently voted one of the most attractive in the world, yet even some of the world’s finest actors have trouble with it. Leonardo DiCaprio tried, as did Julia Roberts (twice), and dare we even mention Brad Pitt?
Today marks St Patrick’s Day, so why not reminisce about the wonkiest Irish accents in film history.
New to this great lineage of bad accents is Wild Mountain Thyme, a romantic drama released in the UK in early 2021 and so inexplicable that even literal Irish actors seemed to speak with fake Irish accents in it.
Such is the evil power of this particular bit of fakery, though – Hollywood’s bastardised visions of Ireland so all-encompassing and destructive that few can survive it.
To celebrate this most Irish of days, we’ve ranked 10 notorious times American filmmaking has treated the country and its people with absolutely no respect.
Quintessential California beach babe Cameron Diaz’s decision to star in Gangs of New York lies somewhere between gutsy and foolish. Playing an Irish sex worker and pickpocket, Diaz tries her best but is inarguably out of her depth. In fairness, Leonardo DiCaprio is just as wonky here in the accent stakes, but, with his messy goatee and slight paunch, he at least looks the part.
Diaz handed the bad Irish accent baton over to her Charlie’s Angels co-star Justin Theroux, just one year after the release of Gangs of New York. You’d think that playing a flamboyant Irish mobster named Seamus O’Grady would help make Theroux’s performance a camp delight, as opposed to aggressively shrill. Reader, it did not.
If you haven’t seen Brosnan’s pre-Bond action film Taffin (and you absolutely have not), you still may have seen a specific 14 seconds of it, with the actor commanding his love interest to leave his home using a delivery that can only be described as Tommy Wiseau-esque. But Irish viewers have even more reason to be confused, namely that Brosnan is from the Republic of Ireland but speaks in an incomprehensible Northern Irish accent throughout. His line “Then maybe you shouldn’t be living heeeerrrre” is entrenched in cinematic lore.
Tommy Lee Jones stars as an IRA terrorist who makes bombs while playing U2 on his stereo – inadvertently summing up the grim taste level of this forgotten thriller. It’s not quite as offensive as Jones’s accent, though.
What did Ireland do in 1996 to deserve not one, but two horrid Julia Roberts performances in which she butchers the Irish accent? She slightly gets away with it in Mary Reilly, a psychological horror movie so uber-serious that it veers into pure camp, but she sticks out like a sore thumb in the historical biopic Michael Collins. Few other actors have ever been so poorly miscast.
The Scottish actor publicly apologised to Ireland for his work in this terrible romantic drama, which says it all, really. At least we can rest assured that it’s unlikely he’ll attempt it again anytime soon.
A Hollywood-ified circus of Irish woe – built on the premise that Minnie Driver is too repulsive to find love – Circle of Friends features a cavalcade of accent horrors. Its most egregious, though, is Chris O’Donnell, who essentially speaks in his normal American accent but throws a few “ahh-roit then”s in for good measure.
It might be incorrect to place Hanks’s performance in Cloud Atlas on this list, because it’s difficult to discern whether he’s actually playing an Irish person. Sure, the character is described in the script as Irish gangster turned-novelist Dermot Hoggins, but Hanks seems to be playing him with what sounds like a Cockney accent. Whatever the truth, it is quite breathtaking to behold.
Wild Mountain Thyme is a treacly romantic drama that, thanks to the surreal accents of its stars, broke the internet upon the release of its trailer. The film, starring Emily Blunt and Jamie Dornan, is a veritable feast of poorly-accented horror. Set on a mystical Irish farm in an indiscernible year (is it 2019 or 1953? Who knows!), the film features a cast of incredibly talented A-listers mercilessly bludgeoning the Irish accent beyond all recognition. Christopher Walken’s is straining for Mullingar but sounds more like “Pirate Christopher Walken”; Blunt’s is baffling; then there’s Jamie Dornan, who is actually Irish but sounds like someone who’s never set foot in the country.
Tom Cruise is actively terrible in Far and Away, a bizarre Ron Howard adventure film that marked the second of three wildly divergent collaborations with Cruise’s then-wife, Nicole Kidman. His Irish accent is fluttery noise, there one minute and gone the next. But it speaks to how we ended up here: non-native speakers have been fed so many stereotypes about Ireland over the decades that few can spot the real thing anymore.