For a country slightly smaller than the state of Oregon, the United Kingdom has an astonishing wealth of regional accents.
Not that you'd know it from the movies. Hollywood's attempts at British accents tend to fall into one of three categories. One: generic "received pronunciation" (though where they're receiving it from, we're not quite sure). Two, Scottish, but only the Edinburgh kind, which we'd love to hear tried out in Glasgow. Or three: cartoon cockney, as taught by the Dick Van Dyke School of Quality Movie Say and Makery.
Our nearest neighbors, the Irish, have it arguably even worse than us. Centuries of British occupation and then Tom Cruise pretends he's from County Wicklow? Cripes, haven't they suffered enough?
For the edification of movie-goers, actors and casting agents everywhere, here's a guide to just some of the vast variety of accents you'll hear around the British Isles and Ireland, courtesy of dialogue coach Andrew Jack.
Okay, now that you've got an idea of how it should sound, let's compare it to how it really, really shouldn't.
1. Christopher Lambert, Highlander — "Scottish"
One of those times when the name of the movie is the only thing that tells you where the main character is supposed to be from.
2. Kevin Costner, Christian Slater et al, Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves — "Midlands English"
Legend has it Robin Hood was from Nottinghamshire. This is how people from Nottinghamshire sound. This is how the American cast of Prince of Thieves sounds.
3. Keanu Reeves, Dracula — "Southern English"
Someone seems to have told him that simply raising his voice a couple of octaves would make him sound like a born and bred Englishman. Whoever that person was, they were egregiously wrong.
4. Forest Whittaker, The Crying Game — "London"
When bad accents happen to good actors. You'd be forgiven for thinking it was Bert the Chimney Sweep himself under that hood.
5. Brad Pitt, The Devil's Own — "Northern Irish"
You have to wonder at the casting agent who thought Brad Pitt and his all-American jawline could ever make a convincing Belfast native. Plus Natascha McElhone's performance here is proof that Brits don't necessarily do any better than Americans when it comes to putting on a brogue.
6. Johnny Depp and Heather Graham, From Hell — "London"
These two co-stars, awkwardly surrounded by a cast of genuine Brits, compete against each other here for the title of Most Hammy Accent. Away to Professor Higgins with the pair of them.
7. Don Cheadle, Ocean's Eleven — "Cockney"
What's rhyming slang for "excruciating"?
8. Russell Crowe, Robin Hood — Anyone's guess
The provenance of Crowe's accent here is one of the great mysteries of our time. The actor was famously so infuriated when one British critic inquired about his Nottinghamshire-via-Ireland-via-Australia twang that Crowe informed him he had "dead ears, mate" and promptly stormed out of the interview.
9. Anne Hathaway, One Day — "Yorkshire"
Hathaway seems to have forgotten that her character's supposed to be from "oop north." Every so often she'll remember and drop in a stray short vowel, which sort of just makes everything worse.
10. Michael Caine, Kidnapped — "Scottish"
We could have included Mel Gibson in Braveheart here, but instead we thought we'd reassure you that it's not just Americans (and the odd Australian) who get it wrong. As the proud owner of one of the most woefully impersonated accents in the world, cockney Caine really should know better. He doesn't. Skip to 1:10 for the full force of his distinctly East London Scottish accent.
Bonus: Pierce Brosnan, Taffin — "Irish"
Okay, so this accent isn't from the UK but Ireland — but Brosnan's speech crimes are even more remarkable of all for the fact that he's a bona fide Irishman who somehow manages to sound like he's never set foot on the Emerald Isle. We have no explanation for what's happening here.