Gerard Butler: Irish or Swedish, asks Donald Clarke
Have you already read enough about Gerard Butler’s terrible Irish accent in PS I Love You (reviewed on page 11)? Well brace yourself, because you’re about to read some more.
In millennia past, it required only the slightest offence against protocol to propel civilisations into conflict. Wars were inspired by such minor incidents as a misplaced slipper or two tribunes kicking the wrong goat. When set beside these transgressions, Butler’s tortured vowels surely constitute grounds for a military action against the actor’s native Scotland. That country is certainly more populous than our own, but no army fed on deep-fried Angel Delight is going to hold out for long.
We are, of course, indulging in hyperbole here. Even if The Irish Times had the right to declare war, we would hold our fire until we encountered some true crime against local humanity. Having failed to call for an assault on the Netherlands following the release of Boney M’s Belfast, we are probably destined to leave our sabre unrattled forever.
There is, however, an issue worth pondering here. Once it seemed as if Meryl Streep was the only Hollywood actor who could be bothered to get any accent right. Scotsmen all came from Brigadoon. The French sounded like Pepe Le Pew. The pressure to have Irish characters sound like a Lucky Charms leprechaun once led the likes of Barry Fitzgerald and Maureen O’Hara – proud Dubliners both – to sweeten their vowels and add blarney to their consonants.
When Far and Away opened in 1992, few domestic viewers were surprised to discover Tom Cruise shovelling out that standard twinkly “brogue” yet again. The least said about Richard Gere in The Jackal or Brad Pitt in The Devil’s Own, the soonest mended.
Then, at some point in the late 1990s, the standard suddenly improved. The industry’s dialogue coaches made a collective decision to edge their students’ accents towards particular regions and classes. At one stage you only seemed to hear two English accents in Hollywood films: characters were either crafty cockneys or associates of Lord Snooty Snootington. Whatever else you think about Bridget Jones’s Diary, you have to admit that Renée Zellweger mastered the very particular intonations of a middle-class wage slave from southeast England.
Modestly budgeted Irish films such as About Adam and The Mighty Celt have succeeded where the extravagant Far and Away failed and permitted their leads to deliver decent, well-defined local accents. Kate Hudson did a good posh Dublin in the former; Gillian Anderson mastered Northern Irish in the latter.
Which brings us back to Gerard Butler. Where on earth is his character supposed to be from? Sometimes rural, sometimes urban, sometimes Swedish, Gerard’s already notorious accent flits around like a fairy dancing to a fiddle waxed with the dew from a Killarney morn.
Oh Lord, now he’s got me doing it. Wars really have been declared over less.