I'm going to preface this by saying I have no issue with the British accent at all. It sounds great, I think it's classy, I grew up on Austin Powers, and many of my esteemed Moviepilot colleagues are of the British persuasion. But haven't you noticed how almost every period piece or fantasy movie/show goes a little wild with the British accent?
Don't get me wrong; when a film or TV show is set in England or has English characters, I'm perfectly fine with it...like this:
Examples of the British accent being perfectly acceptable:
Poor, quivering Oliver is allowed to have a British accent... and some more gruel... I mean, look how hungry he looks. I accept it here.
I understand British accents can give dialogue a bit more bite, and on Downton Abbey I am completely cool with it... because, like, they're ACTUALLY British, y'know?
Don't be sad, Draco. You and all of your magical British prep school friends' accents are perfectly and totally legit. Even Crab and Goyle, who can barely talk. Your creator hails from the United Kingdom (Shouts out to JK), and although fictional, HP is supposed to be set in England.
The King's Speech
You're the King of England, Colin Firth. You DO have a voice. A great, British voice. One that I can't hate on. Also, great work on that speech... you nailed it!
Did you see those words at the beginning of the clip? "Original British Drama". BBC is A-OK to go ahead and throw as many British accents into this show as they want. Nothing is out of the norm here. This is fine.
Where I get tripped up is when non-UK-based historical or fantasy stories feel the need to go "full Brit". I think it has to do with the fact that the British accent is foreign to us Americans (generally, the target audience), which we enjoy because it places us in a new world and we also immediately equate it with being cultured. But at the same time, the British accent is familiar enough to the point that we won't be cursing at our TV screens trying to decipher what Maximus from Gladiator is trying to say. Sometimes a British accent in ancient Rome just seems a little out of place...
Examples of the British accent being thrown in to a movie or show seemingly for no reason:
Game of Thrones
This is a fictional, semi-medieval, magical land that George R.R. Martin has created from the depths of his super expansive, death-obsessed imagination. I love the show, don't get me wrong... and I get it... they all sound British because it seems sophisticated and ancient, and war-like and whatnot. But why, as fans, have we come to expect all of our fantastical heroes and characters from period pieces to have British accents?
Right, Gerard Butler, it is definitely Sparta. Not London. Although I have to admit the epic-ness of the British accent made a lot of the scenes from this movie super sick.
The Lord of the Rings
I get that J.R.R. Tolkien was British, but they shot the film in New Zealand. Not England. And it's a fantastical series, so they could've made them Kiwis (That's what they call New Zealanders right?)...or anything, really. But no... hairy feet and British accents.
This is one of my FAVORITE movies of all time, and yes, Russell Crowe, every time I have watched I have been entertained. However... I'm pretty sure Marcus Aurelius (who is in this movie and is a REAL historical figure) didn't have a British accent. This film is set in 180 AD... juuust about a century or so before the country of England or the British accent ever even existed. Why do they do this??
It seems like we're sort of set in our (British) ways with this one. Ethan Hawke put it well, when discussing Shakespeare...
A lot of American actors when they do Shakespeare put on a phoney English accent and it drives me crazy. You're always fighting against the idea that only the British know how to do Shakespeare.
The fact is, we should be focusing on the acTING and not the acCENT. But yeah, the precedent is set... the English accent has been a part of entertainment for so long... and it has a proven success rate. So let's keep it going, right? Would you be able to take a historical or fantasy piece as seriously if the cast used non-British accents?