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Speaking Oirish



Glenn Close is the latest star to mangle the Irish accent, but it's a long tradition. Declan Cashin lines up those guilty of bringing Celtic clichés to the big screen

Is there a more impossible task that non-Irish actors can set themselves than trying to master an Irish accent on screen?

Many have tried, but so very few have succeeded. Yet the mangled Irish 'dire-lects' seem to keep coming.

The latest example is the up-coming drama 'Albert Nobbs', starring American actress Glenn Close as a woman passing as a male servant in 19th-century Dublin.

Going by the movie's preview trailer, Glenn seems to just about get away with it, though she has more leeway as, by definition, the gender-bending character's accent is going to sound some way artificial.

Her Australian co-star Mia Wasikowska, on the other hand, doesn't come out as well. Listening to her line, "God, but isn't he a smasher?" when discussing a potential beau near the beginning of the promo does not bode well for the rest of the performance.

At least Mia's efforts aren't as woeful as some of the more egregious recent offenders.

For instance, Scottish star Gerard Butler's blarney in 'PS I Love You' seems to be one for the ages.

According to the online reaction, Gerard's butchered pronunciation of the Dublin venue Whelan's as "Whale-ans" is a particular low point in proceedings.

As many have pointed out since the movie's release in 2007, if the producers were that determined to cast Gerard as the romantic lead, why didn't they just make the character Scottish?

His character's Irishness wasn't integral to the story, and if they'd re-written him as a Scot, the film-makers could simply have gone to Edinburgh to indulge the Cel-ticwhackery they seemed so intent on incorporating into the tale -- as indeed happened in the case of the wretched Patrick Dempsey bomb-com 'Made of Honour'.

'Watchmen' co-star Matthew Goode is also in the 'dire-lect' hall of shame for his Kerry-ish inflection in the abomination 'Leap Year'.

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Before filming had even begun, Matthew seemed to anticipate trouble ahead.

"I still don't understand why anyone wanted me, a British guy, to play an Irishman," he laughed.

"It must be because [Michael] Fassbender and the boys are very busy at the moment." Indeed.

To be fair, Matthew seemed to put the work in, getting voice coaching from Gerry Grennell that resulted in an accent so thick that apparently nobody on set could understand it, requiring Matthew to water it down.

"It was definitely blood, sweat and tears, but it worked out," he said later.

Erm, not so much. Matthew's Irish accent was derided by critics and audiences here, and the actor himself publicly slammed the movie as "turgid" a few months later, adding that he expected it to be voted the worst of the year.

"Do I feel I let myself down? No. Was it a bad job? Yes, it was. But, you know, I had a nice time and I got paid." That was his final word on the experience.

However, if nothing else, 'Leap Year' marked the first, and probably only, time that a cinematic romantic hero was named Declan, so for that alone, I am personally grateful.

Consider, also, the case of British actress Alice Eve as Charlotte's braless Irish nanny in 'Sex and the City 2'.

Not only was her every appearance on screen accompanied by blasts of the worst kind of 'Oirish' trad music that even the most shameless tourist trap in Temple Bar would snub, Alice then opens her mouth to deliver one of the most ghastly "begosh and begorrah/May the luck of the Shillelagh keep the Banshee from your door" type of accent.

Lucky for Alice that her crimes against the brogue were mitigated by the fact that the rest of that movie is such an offensive monstrosity on every level.

Her 'Sex and the City' co-star Kim Cattrall, bless her cotton socks, did her best to adopt a soft-spoken Irish accent in 'The Tiger's Tale', but, like that movie's allegorical pretensions, it ended up being about as subtle as a fart in a wetsuit.

"The Irish accent is so difficult to get specifically right because if you go five kilometres down the road the accent changes at the bend," Cattrall acknowledged in an interview at the time.

"When I got to Ireland, I heard of different actors who had done terrible Irish accents, and I hoped that I wouldn't end on that list." Whoops!

But at least you're in A-list company, Kim. Julia Roberts, Heaven help us, apparently didn't feel as if she'd done enough damage with her miserable Irish accent in 'Mary Reilly'.

A few years later, she returned to these shores to play Kitty Kiernan opposite Liam Neeson in Neil Jordan's 'Michael Collins', and the noise coming out of her mouth couldn't have rendered her casting and performance more implausible than if she'd broken out her old 'Pretty Woman' thigh-high boots and started parading around 1920s Dublin to a 'diddly-eye' re-arrangement of a Roy Orbison track.

Cameron Diaz fared no better in Scorsese's 'Gangs of New York', nor did her co-star Leonardo DiCaprio, who were all, notionally at least, supposed to be playing Irish immigrants in America.

One might argue that the inconsistent, jumbled mish-mash of dialects coming out of the actors' mouths was a reflection on their characters' desire to assimilate into New York life. That does go some way to explaining Cameron's patented "Like, for totes, aye 'tis a fine fella you are, LOL" Valley Girl Irish tones in the film.

Similarly, when Kate Hudson attempted to sound like a Dubliner in 'About Adam', she struggled to escape her own powerful LA inflection.

In Thaddeus O'Sullivan's 'Ordinary Decent Criminal', Kevin Spacey gives a masterclass in the art of the crappy Irish accent, mixing a bit of inner-city Dublin with Northern Ireland, and then, as one critic has noted, relying "on 'Lucky Charms' for the rest".

For a period in the 1990s, the IRA was Hollywood's go-to group for movie baddies, resulting in Tommy Lee Jones's baffling brogue in 'Blown Away', and Brad Pitt's mannered Northern burr in 'The Devil's Own'.

Brad, to his credit, somewhat redeemed himself with his dazzling Traveller patois in 'Snatch'.

When it comes to abysmal Hollywood Irish accents, however, a sure-fire contender for the all-time number one spot is Ron Howard's 'Far and Away' -- which marks its 20th anniversary this year -- a movie that leaves no Gaelic cliché or stereotypical stone unturned.

Then-golden couple Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman went to town on western Ireland argot as a pair of star-crossed immigrant lovers trying to make their way in "Amerikay".

But at least 'Far and Away' has the decency to be so all-out awful that its guilty-pleasure qualities more than compensate for its many other deficiencies.

"Oh, you're a corker Shannon! What a corker you are!" chirruped The Cruiser's character Joseph Donnelly ("of the family Donnelly!") to Nicole's prissy 'Oirish-tocrat'.

The gales of laughter that greeted that cracker were only bested by the delivery of Tom's later line, "Tell me ya like me hat!"

Lastly, while it's easy -- and fun -- to mock American actors for their attempts to master the accent, what do you do in the case of an Irish actor who even struggles to sound authentically native?

J'accuse, Pierce Brosnan in 'Evelyn'.

In terms of cinematic suffering, listening to Navan-born Pierce falter with his over-pronounced stab at a rural dialect is up there with his own painful, constipated attempts at singing in 'Mamma Mia!'

Unforgivable, Pierce.


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