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The British Villain

Discussion in 'TV Central' started by Richard Channing, Dec 11, 2018.

  1. Richard Channing

    Richard Channing Soap Chat Enthusiast

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    A couple of interesting articles on why Hollywood loves a British villain:

    Why So Many Movie Villains Have British Accents
    By Cari Romm
    [​IMG]

    If you’ve seen pretty much any movie ever, you may have noticed the film industry’s weird tendency to drop British-accented bad guys into settings where, mysteriously, no one else seems to be British. It’s a convention that cuts across genre: the evil king from Disney’s Robin Hood, Liam Neeson in Batman Begins, Anthony Hopkins in Silence of the Lambs, Darth Vader — all sounded vaguely British, if not outrightly so. Elizabeth Hurley was the only one with a British accent in that movie Bedazzled, and she played the literal devil.

    The reason, as linguist Chi Luu recently explained in JSTOR Daily, is that the accent lends itself well to the particular qualities that make for a compelling movie villain, a cocktail of traits more nuanced than just “pure evil.” Research has shown that speaking in the received pronunciation accent — the “posh” iteration of the British accent, also known as the Queen’s English — makes people appear “more educated, intelligent, competent, physically attractive, and generally of a higher socioeconomic class.” In one study, for example, a researcher delivered the exact same lecture in two different accents, receiving more positive reviews when he did it in received pronunciation. On the other hand, though, RP speakers are also generally considered “less trustworthy, kind, sincere, and friendly than speakers of non-RP accents.” And when you put the two together, you get someone with a fierce intellect and low morals — the perfect combo for a fictional bad guy.

    But there’s something else at play, too, Chuu noted: There’s a concept called “standard language ideology,” the belief that there’s one ideal form of a language and then various accented offshoots:

    Speakers of the standard form are considered the ones that “have no accent” and any dialect that strays from from that is stigmatized in one way or another. Believing in this concept legitimizes the institutional discrimination of those who don’t use or didn’t grow up with the standard language. The reality is of course that everyone has an accent.
    But plenty of people in the U.S. think of the American accent as no accent at all. Giving a movie villain the inflection of another place, then, helps to cast them as some standard deviation away from the norm — an outsider, and a threatening one at that. In other words, we give our villains accents because we don’t want them to sound like us; for proof, look no further than the “Evil Brit” entry on TV tropes.

    And here it is:


    Evil Brit
    • [​IMG]
    • He uses mind control to take over the city, invades it with British pop culture, and makes everyone say "biscuits" instead of "cookies".
    • Ben Kingsley: Have you ever noticed how, in Hollywood movies, all the villains are played by Brits?
      Mark Strong: Maybe we just sound right.
      Tom Hiddleston: (flying in a helicopter without spilling a drop of his tea)We're more focused... more precise.
      Strong: We're always one step ahead.
      Kingsley: With a certain style; an eye for detail.
      Hiddleston: And we're obsessed by power! A stiff upper lip is key.
      Strong: And we all drive Jaguars.
      Kingsley: Ohhh yes. It's good to be bad.
      Jaguar 2014 Super Bowl commercial: "British Villains"

    • Any character with a British accent, particularly in upper class Received Pronunciation (far and away the most common type you'll hear in American media) is likely to turn out to be a villain. The English tend to view this trope in one of three ways, depending on the particular depiction. Either: with a sense of pride (Evil Is Sexy / Evil Is Cool / Evil Is Posh after all!), mild eye-rolling amusement (tsk, Americans) OR annoyance at the apparent national stereotyping.

      This includes all evil characters with British accents (where the rest of the cast has accents), whether or not they are actually stated to be British. Quite a few of these are not actual Brits, but have anomalous quasi-British (usually vaguely upper-class and English, as noted above) accents in settings where almost everyone else has some sort of American accent and no one is necessarily supposed to be from either country, just to mark that character as villainous. As you might expect, this version appears to be associated with films and shows in which the use of English is (at least weakly implied to be) a Translation Convention for whatever the characters are "really" saying, although it's not exclusive to them. See The Queen's Latin and Aliens of London.

      Villains of this type come in two flavours. The first is usually wealthy and snobbish, and probably quite well educated. The second is the hooligan with the Cockney (or similar) accent.

      This is fairly recent since during Hollywood's Golden Age it was acceptable for the good guys to speak with an upper-class English accent as well.

      Probably related to The Mean Brit, although it appeared well before The Mean Brit trend began. The Romans, who generally are the baddies in most historical films, are almost always played by English actors. The British also are often the imperial bad guys in Hong Kong kung-fu flicks. World War II films using the Translation Convention usually have Those Wacky Nazis played by Brits as well. Surprisingly, they are quite rare in Irish films.

      In Hollywood at least, this may be a product of different acting traditions. Simplifying wildly, Americans go into movie acting to be rich, famous, and loved by the audience; Brits go into acting because they like acting, and some who do well at it then go to Hollywood for the money. With, on average, more training, more experience, less need to be loved, and a cheerful interest in any well-paying gig, they can often make excellent charismatic villains. Of course, it seems that there are also people in Hollywood with a cultural aversion to Britain who are all too happy to cast them in these parts.

      Given the way in which American fans often respond to British accents, fandoms sometimes turn this sort of character into Draco in Leather Pants.

      Contrast British Stuffiness, which may be applied to a nominally heroic character who must nevertheless Die for Our Ship.

      Doesn't really apply in British works, of course. In those, this role is often given to the French, Germans or (rarely, especially nowadays) Americans.



    So, do Brits make the best villains?? Got a favourite evil Brit??

    AK.JPG
     
    Last edited: Dec 11, 2018
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  2. tommie

    tommie Soap Chat Enthusiast

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    I dunno
    It's funny because I get the impression that different countries have their different choice of a "villain"-y type; in the 90s it seemed like US soaps certainly favoured Australians as the villain.

    In Sweden a lot of shows seemed to have gone for people with a Swedish/Finnish accent as the villain. In the Dannish show Riget the main villain was of course a Swede. Makes me wonder how it looks in the rest of the world.
     
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  3. Willie Oleson

    Willie Oleson drilling for soap

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    I wonder how many of those villains can be identified as native British citizens. It seems to me that they just represent entire Europe, but it's easier for non-British actors to do a British accent than, say, a Spanish accent.

    I also think that a British accent is a good way to underplay/intentionally mask the villain's villainy, or to confuse the American heroes.
    Is it silly? Is it gay? Do we have to take this guy seriously? Probably nothing to worry about?
    While American villains in European stories are often straightforward (I got the money, I got the lawyers - and you're toast!) and really the only way to defeat them is to ship 'em back to Murica.

    Continental European English sounds kinkier and more sinister, I think. Welcome, welcome, misterrrr Bond.
    Unlike their British counterparts, the restraint in conversation is forced upon them because they have to speak a foreign language - and this frustration adds to the violent and psychopathic nature of these villains.
    Maybe that's why they use their native language in emotional scenes (Verdammt! Merde!)



     
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  4. Richard Channing

    Richard Channing Soap Chat Enthusiast

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    lol, yes it seems some American viewers have a hard time discerning which Brits are gay and which aren't.
     
    Last edited: Dec 12, 2018
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  5. Willie Oleson

    Willie Oleson drilling for soap

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    Well I find it perfectly understandable that they would think "why can't they just speak, like, you know, like errrr, normal?"
     
    Last edited: Dec 12, 2018
  6. Willie Oleson

    Willie Oleson drilling for soap

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    And could it be linked to the popularity of the Hammer Horror films? Are Brits inherently scary people?
     
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  7. Daniel Avery

    Daniel Avery Super Moderator Staff Member

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    I always assumed the "British villain" was a TV/film custom in the US because it allowed them to have a foreigner ("not one of us") that we could still understand when they spoke. Plus there might still be a few grudge-carrying Americans who haven't forgiven that whole "War of 1812/burning down Washington DC" thing....

    I also think there might be a little suppressed inferiority complex at play, since that British accent makes you all sound so damn smart. You could recite the phone book and it would sound like Shakespeare. Make your villain sound smarter than the hero and it'll be all the sweeter when the hero prevails.
     
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  8. Richard Channing

    Richard Channing Soap Chat Enthusiast

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    I notice they never have Irish villains. If fact the more I think about it the more offended I think I am. We can be evil too y'know.
     
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  9. Willie Oleson

    Willie Oleson drilling for soap

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    I thought DYNASTY's Sean Rowan was Irish. They also had Austrian, Dutch and Moldavian villains. DYNASTY was the best.
     
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  10. Omg

    Omg Admin

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    [​IMG]

    ew.png so.jpg


    [​IMG][​IMG]
     
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  11. Richard Channing

    Richard Channing Soap Chat Enthusiast

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  12. Sarah

    Sarah Super Moderator Staff Member Original Member Since 1998

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  13. Richard Channing

    Richard Channing Soap Chat Enthusiast

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    Well yeah, but they kinda have to be Irish though, don't they. But Hollywood doesn't just use someone Irish as a villain unless it's a film about Ireland. There's never been an Irish Bond villain for example. Although I guess we've never been that big on world domination, if you don't include populating it. :D
     
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  14. Willie Oleson

    Willie Oleson drilling for soap

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    What does typical Irish look like? As you said, they're usually in stories about Irish families or history, and then it doesn't look very typical or extraordinary anymore.
    Famous and infamous rulers can be used as a template to create a stereotypical villain, that's why the German villain often has a whiff of you-know-who.
    The Dutch villain can be the heartless, opportunistic merchant, all the French are sluts...but how about the Irish?


    [​IMG]

    Also, the clueless viewer could interpret Irish as the British Cockney or Scottish so they really need to bring home the villain's heritage. And the IRA seems to be the most obvious angle in non-British productions.
     
  15. Alexis

    Alexis Soap Chat Champion

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    Sex.
     
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  16. Alexis

    Alexis Soap Chat Champion

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    Well only if that Irish character was played by someone not Irish. Irish accents sound absolutely nothing like Cockney or Scottish.


    Now I'm imagining an Irish Bond villain. No, not just an Irish Bond villain, but an Irish speaking Bond Villain. He doesn't want to take over the world. He just wants an Irish Language Act. MI5 aren't ready.
     
  17. Omg

    Omg Admin

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    True, but to people across the pond they can get them mixed up. It hasn't happened to me, but I have been mistaken for an Australian quite a few times.
     
  18. Alexis

    Alexis Soap Chat Champion

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    Are we talking about American's here?
     
  19. Omg

    Omg Admin

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    Yes, I'm speaking from experience. Out in the national parks, you meet various people and most of them haven't travelled outside the country and then admit to confusing the British accents
     
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  20. Willie Oleson

    Willie Oleson drilling for soap

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    In the meadow. Nearby a cute cottage where someone's baking bread.

    See? You're just too cute to be a villain. We can't hate you.
     
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