A Song Of Ire And Vice – How The Accents On Game Of Thrones Are Rubbish And Why Nothing Can Be Done About It
If you obsess about the accents on “Game Of Thrones”, you are clearly missing it’s central themes. These themes are, as far as I have been able to make out, dragons and gratuitous nudity. Timeless and universal subjects, I’m sure you’ll agree.
One man is obsessed by the accents though. I have just read a post by Max Read on Gawker.com concerning that very subject. It was funny and informative and highly entertaining. An awesome piece of nit picking. Naturally, I don’t agree with a word of it so I’m going to do a bit of nit picking myself. (Here is the link to the post if you haven’t seen it before http://tinyurl.com/cww5gvv )
In the unlikely event that Max Read chances across my post, he is welcome to pick it apart in turn. In fact, I’d be a little disappointed if he didn’t. It’s what we do on The Internet. It passes the time, we all enjoy it really and everyone goes home tired but happy, despite their protestations to the contrary.
I like Game of Thrones for many reasons. The main one, after the dragons and the nudity of course, is that it firmly establishes that there is no such thing as a generic British Accent. I like that it is dragging America away from the idea that all Brits talk like Hugh Grant, Kiera Knightly or Dick Van Dyke in his “Mary Poppins” role. We do not.
I am English. I’m not militant about it or anything, but I was born and raised in England so it’s just an inescapable fact. I come from Newcastle upon Tyne, the most Northerly city in England. That makes me what is called “A Geordie”. In “Game of Thrones” terms, this makes me Davos Seaworth.
The actor who plays Davos Seaworth makes a fine job of a Geordie accent, but to the trained ear his accent does wander around the region somewhat. Though to be fair, there is not a great deal of room for his accent to wander around in. There are literally thousands of distinct accents in Britain and they are separated by unfeasibly small geographical distances.
The nearest city south of Newcastle is Sunderland. I had a night job there when I was a student. As soon as I opened my mouth on the first night, everyone could instantly tell I was from Newcastle by my accent. The distance from Newcastle to Sunderland? A little over ten miles (10.49 miles to be precise.)
The residents of Newcastle are, as I’ve mentioned, called Geordies. The residents of Sunderland are known as Mackems. Geordies have flat vowel sounds and pronounce “make” and “take” with an implied Y sound: “May-aek” and “Tay-aek”. ( I’ve tried to render that as accurately as I can phonetically speaking, but if it’s not come across, just YouTube anything by Geordie comedian Ross Noble).
Mackems do not have flat vowel and they pronounce “make” and “take” as “mack” and “tack”. This is why they are called Mackems in the first place. Historically, there was a lot of trade between Sunderland and Newcastle and “Mackem” is supposedly a contraction of the phrase “You mack ‘em, I’ll tack ‘em”.
Go a bit further north, and things get even stranger. Twelve miles north of Newcastle, as the crow flies, is a town called Ashington. In Ashington, people roll their R’s like the French, a quirky hangover from the Norman Conquest. They also pronounce most two letter vowel combinations as a diphthong, whether they are or not.
There is a traditional Northern joke which illustrates this:
A woman walks into a hairdressers in Ashington and says: “I’d like a perm please”. The hairdresser puts down her scissors, gazes wistfully out of the window and says “I wandered lernly as a cloud….”
The point is that British accents are a messy hotch potch. Some are vastly different, despite the separation of only a few miles. Some are separated by hundreds of miles but sound very similar, like the Norfolk and the Devon accents. And some people have unexpected accents, like Rose Leslie, who plays the Wilding Ygrette.
Max Read includes an interview with her in his post. He describes her as a “super posh Scot”. And she is super posh, but she’s not super posh in a Lothian, “Prime of Miss Jean Brodie” way. She’s posh in a cut glass, English Rose way. If you didn’t know she was Scottish, you wouldn’t guess that she’s even been within a hundred miles of Scotland. A bit like Tony Blair. He’s Scottish too, believe it or not.
Accent is often no indicator of where a person has spent their formative years. Spike Milligan was born and raised in India. Cliff Richard : born and raised in India. And Felicity Kendal, although she was born in England, moved to India when she was seven years old and didn’t move back to Britain until she was twenty. You don’t get much more English sounding than Felicity “The Good Life” Kendal.
To make the Game of thrones accents authentic, you’d have to take a map of Britain and use some sort of rubber sheet topology to superimpose it on top of the appropriate part of the Game Of Thrones world. Then you’d have to pin point what the equivalent accents would be and get accent coaches to work with them, taking into account the effects of any childhood influences from other accents.
This would actually be even more complicated than it sounds. Twenty odd years ago, the BBC made a production called Our Friends In The North. All of the four main protagonists (Daniel Craig, Christopher Eccleston, Mark Strong and Gina McKee) had to be Geordies.
Geordie is a particularly difficult accent to do. It is heavily influenced by Old Norse – due to the Viking Invasion- which makes it linguistically different from any other British accent. Every British actor dreads being required to “do Geordie”.
Most of the cast also had to “do Geordie”, so an accent coach was hired. This accent coach was, as it happens, my best mate Andy Glancey. The original BBC plan was for him to give everyone in need- except Gina McKee who’s from Sunderland, which was felt to be close enough- a week long crash course. It soon became clear this wasn’t going to be enough.
So my friend Andy spent eighteen months sitting on set wearing a pair of headphones and either nodding or shaking his head, depending on whether the actors were getting it right or not.
Getting the accents “right” on Game Of Thrones would involve an army of accent coaches doing the same thing. There’d be a lot of outtakes. I’m not saying it would be completely impossible, but it would be prohibitively expensive.
If you watch Game Of Thrones but have an issue with the accents, bear in mind that getting them properly authentic might send the show the same way as The Borgias due to money issues. So please, just sit back, relax and enjoy the dragons. And the nudity, of course.
© Copyright Michael Grimes 2014