screen wriTer

Ger­ard But­ler: Ir­ish or Swedish, asks Don­ald Clarke

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - Opinion -

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.

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