Oh dear, sainted Radio Times TV editor Alison Graham has ruffled my feathers for the second week on the trot with her usual piece in the latest issue. And this worries me, given that I have quietly hero-worshipped Graham from afar for many years.
“What now?”, you ask… After last week’s thumbs down for the c-word, Graham has upper crust accents in US TV series firmly in her sights now. Apparently this is something no “gritty” US drama should do, with CSI: New York committing the cardinal sin of introducing an English love interest for hunky Mac. It doesn’t matter that the actress in question is Claire Forlani (pictured left), who has been working successfully in America for years now, it’s all about how she speaks:
“Thus I fear what I term the Alex Kingston effect. I have nothing against her, but she forever ruined ER for me the day she walked into County General and started speaking. Cut-glass English accents in gritty US dramas are just not right. It’s like setting tables at McDonalds with a Wedgwood dinner service.”
What?! Kingston was bloody brilliant in ER, as is the magnificent Parminder Nagra. She is easily the acting equal of her American colleagues with whom she makes up one of the finest ensembles on US television. And she speaks proper nice and everything.
Can’t we be proud that this country has some great actors and actresses who are out there in Hollywood, working and making a success of it? Or is there something classist in this argument about a cut-glass accent spoiling things? Sorry to shatter the illusion, but some people do speak a bit posh. Kingston’s character in ER was from an upper class background, so it was appropriate for her to speak in that manner (being Alex Kingston’s natural accent, while we’re at it).
Graham also believes that if an English actor appears in a US drama, then they should be forced to speak with an American accent, a la Hugh Laurie in House. What utter rot! In that case, somebody had better give Ashley Jensen a call and get her pulled from the set of Ugly Betty… Oh, hang on, is it because she’s a Scot and sounds a bit, you know, regional? Or how about the little Hobbit fella from Lost? Oi, Eccleston! Get back here, you’re just a bit too Brit for Heroes.
I can hazily see Graham’s point (so you might just say I’m being a bit contrary) – American TV does have a tendency to portray Englishness as if we’re all Mary Poppins, but it’s plain silly to suggest that our best performing exports should have to adopt an American accent when Over There. How would Patrick Stewart have fared in Star Trek (but then, he was playing a Frenchman)?
By this argument, all American drama series should just forget that England exists, and while we’re about it, let’s force every American actor who comes to work here to bolt on a terrible English accent as penance.
Britain is a fantastic melting pot of accents, regions and backgrounds, and whether we come from Hull, Hell, Halifax or Esher, it should all be fair game to cross the Atlantic.
But Alison, I totally agree – Helen Baxendale was bloody awful in Friends!
Photo: Claire Forlani and Gary Sinese in CSI:New York. Photo courtesy Channel 5.