Monday, 15 December 2008

"Foreign" accents

There’s something about English-speaking actors using foreign accents that really irritates me. I don’t mean when the character is in a foreign land, though Andy Serkis’s French in Little Dorrit was, what shall I say, luxuriant. No, the inanity, I think, is when a bunch of characters are speaking the same language and STILL accent it.

The BBC’s recent Einstein And Eddington had all the German-speakers use slight accents when speaking with each other. It grated for the first ten minutes or so, but after a while I accepted it as a way of differentiating one nation from another. But I recently saw The Reader, which is set entirely in Germany and in which only German is spoken; but Kate Winslet and Ralph Fiennes were required to speak to each other in Jorman eksents. Which seemed ridiculous. I sat there completely unengaged with the beginning of the film thinking come on, people, Wallander was set in Sweden and accepted English accents, what’s the problem?

After a while I began to realise that it was a way of accommodating two different nationalities in the cast. Apart from the two principals, most of the cast were German. The acting was of a high standard; this rantette isn’t intended to belittle the cast’s considerable skill.

As the original novel is a set text in German schools, I imagine they have also shot a German language version. But the use of accents still felt like a rather uncomfortable compromise.

Here’s another lost in translation item. The German title, Der Vorleser, means not simply the reader but someone who reads aloud, to an audience. Which is precisely what Fiennes’ character does for a large part of his life. It’s so frustrating when such precision is not readily translatable.