Hey, remember Highlander? The 1986 fantasy adventure movie directed by Russell Mulcahy?
Classic! Immortals fighting to the death. The Kurgan's comically deep voice. Sean Connery playing Sean Connery but with a twirly mustache this time. Christopher Lambert… trying his best not to suck and halfway succeeding I guess.
Crucially, it was a movie that featured Scotland. And, to a certain extent, Scottish accents.
As a young Scottish boy, growing up in the stab-happy suburban sprawl of Glasgow, I was always proud of Highlander. This was the late 1980s, pre-Braveheart. Highlander was the one Hollywood movie that acknowledged Scotland's existence, even tangentially.
That was a big deal. My friends and I loved Highlander. We swung sticks about, pretending to be Connor MacLeod of the clan MacLeod. "THERE CAN ONLY BE ONE!" Good times.
It was only as we got older we all started asking questions.
Why the hell was Christopher Lambert, a French-American actor who clearly had no idea what a Scottish accent sounds like, playing a Scotsman?
Or questions like...
Why was the only actually Scottish actor in the movie -- Sean Connery -- playing a character called The Spaniard?
Hollywood has a very strange relationship with Scotland. Particularly when it comes to accents. I've spent a fair amount of time thinking about this.
A few days ago, Netflix released its first trailer for Outlaw King, a new "historical" epic about Scotland's No. 2 beloved historical figure, Robert the Bruce.
Our main national hero is, of course, William Wallace, aka Braveheart, who was memorably botched by Mel Gibson, another actor who clearly had no idea what a Scottish accent sounds like.
Even from the trailer, it's pretty clear that Outlaw King takes its cues from Braveheart: The tone, the quest for revenge, the pre-battle speech of INSPIRATION. There's also the English-people-as-pantomime-villains trope. Big fan of that one. Couldn't they have released this movie before the Scottish Referendum?
You might remember Robert the Bruce. He actually featured in Braveheart, played by Angus Macfadyen. He was the dude that sold Mel out, the dirty bugger. Yeah, that didn't happen -- much like 90 percent of Braveheart. Historical accuracy wasn't Gibson's strong point.
Outlaw King has a lot going for it, and I'm actually pretty excited. It's directed by David Mackenzie, the critically acclaimed director behind Hell or High Water. Mackenzie is actually, honestly, properly Scottish. And unlike Braveheart, which was mostly shot in Ireland, Outlaw King was shot almost exclusively in Scottish locations.
Cool cool cool.
But yeah, get this. Robert the Bruce, the hero and liberator of Scotland, is being played by...
Wait. Chris Pine. Chris Pine, born and raised in Los Angeles Chris Pine? Chris Pine, son of Sgt. Joseph Getraer from CHiPs Chris Pine?
As we say in Scotland: Haud the bus.
Having only watched the trailer a couple of times, I'm still deciding whether Pine's Scottish accent is worse than Gibson's abomination. But one thing is crystal clear from the outset: The accent is not good. And considering how little they have him speak, you get the sense they're trying their level best to hide something.
Looks like we might another accent disaster on our hands, folks.
And it prompts the question: Why is Hollywood afraid of Scottish people? Or, more specifically, why is Hollywood so afraid of Scottish accents?
There can only be one
We live in interesting times.
Despite pushback from the usual suspects, we've collectively agreed that representation matters in cinema (and is often insanely profitable). Black Panther broke every record in the book, The Last Jedi featured a diverse cast, Fast and the Furious had a diverse cast., totally ruled, and was just this massive, important moment for a whole group of people used to being invisible onscreen.
And just to be clear: As an incredibly white man bearing all the privilege that comes with it, I'm not suggesting this "Scottish situation" is in the same ballpark as, say, casting Scarlett Johansson in Asian roles, or casting cisgender actors in trans roles. No, of course not. Absolutely of course not.
But it's weird.
It's weird to have watched mainstream movies and television for literally decades and not once heard someone sound authentically Scottish.
There's probably some crossover here. If you're from somewhere in the US with a notorious accent -- say Boston -- you'll probably feel my pain. Australians, you'll probably feel my pain. People from the North of England -- be it Liverpool, Manchester or Newcastle -- will almost certainly feel my pain.
Scottish accents in cinema tend to fall into two categories. Category 1: Scottish accents by actors who aren't Scottish. Think Fat Bastard in Austin Powers or Scottie from Star Trek. Accents that are either hyperexaggerated in a way that simply doesn't make sense, or accents that are just like… Groundskeeper Willie from The Simpsons.
(Even accents from actors who've clearly put effort into getting it right aren't quite right. It's still noticeable. Jonny Lee Miller in Trainspotting is a good example. Great, but still not there.)
And then there's category 2: Scottish accents by actors who are Scottish but have watered down their accent in a desperate attempt to be understood. Who have compromised their authentic voice so comprehensively they'd be garrotted with a broken pint glass for talking like that in any pub in Glasgow.
Probably the most painful example of that: Glaswegian Brian Vernel, who played the gangster in Star Wars: The Force Awakens and who clearly, clearly had been politely asked to enunciate every single syllable in order to be understood. Unforgiveable. Just look at Gerard Butler in every movie he's ever starred in. I mean look at this, look! That's what we call code switching.
My point: Not once have I heard a single authentic Scottish accent in a mainstream Hollywood movie outside of a boring "we can't understand what he's saying" joke a la Brave from Pixar.
Even movies like Trainspotting, which are about Scottish people in the most authentically Scottish situation (being addicted to class A drugs) have watered-down Scottish accents.
This is what people in Trainspotting sound like (brace yourself for swears):
Here's what people in Trainspotting should have sounded like (also brace yourself for swears, but you probably won't understand them, so no biggie):
Not even in the same ballpark.
It's shite being Scottish
Here's what we Scottish people ultimately have to endure: a strange mish-mash. A little bit of category 1, and a whole lot of category 2.
That's precisely what we see when watching a movie like Outlaw King or Braveheart. As an actual Scottish person, with an actual Scottish accent, the whole thing is just painful.
Can we not just have… real Scottish people being Scottish? Can we not just train the ears of mainstream audiences? And if not, can we just have subtitles? I don't mind subtitles. I would prefer subtitles. Bring on the subtitles, I say, because Jesus, anything is better than this:
And definitely anything is better than this:
Get it together people.
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