You've found Father McKenzie. But are you really looking for Eleanor Rigby?

Tuesday, December 09, 2003


... reminds me of other cartoonish super-villains, especially those depicted by Disney, whose villains collectively have so many sneering British accents that, if they ever formed a sort of Coalition of the Evil, they could almost be mistaken for an episode of Blake's Seven. My 3-year-old even thought for a time that Scar from The Lion King and Jafar from Aladdin were one and the same.

But it's not just Disney who love to hate British accents. As Giancarlo Cairella notes in his canonical list of movie clich├ęs, there are certain rules for Villains:

• The bad guy is the foreigner.
• Corollary: the foreigner is the guy who speaks English with an English accent

However, this is not broad-brush stereotyping at work here, heavens, no. It's fine-brush stereotyping:

Dear British person: could you could be the next Euro-villain? Are you a Crown subject? Have you performed leading roles with an internationally recognised theatre company? If you answered yes to both questions, you are hereby eligible to portray a villain in a major Hollywood film. In accordance with the laws of the European Union, the British villain will now be known as the Euro-villain – but we all know, deep down, that he’s British to the core. Adhere to the following guidelines and you’ll be well on your way.

Choose your character

Type A: Sneering, disdainful, urbane villain who wants to regain his degenerate aristocratic family’s squandered fortune while grinding everyone else down into the dirt. (Examples: James Mason, Alan Rickman, Dirk Bogarde, Paul Scofield, Ralph Fiennes in Schindler’s List, Jason Isaacs in The Patriot.)

Type B: Sneering, resentful working-class villain who rages against those who made his father a snivelling failure, his mother a whore, and generally kept him down in the dirt all his life. (Examples: Steven Berkoff, Tim Roth, Gary Oldman, Robert Carlyle, currently Vinnie Jones in Gone in 60 Seconds.)

“How to be a Euro-villain: Have you got what it takes to be a Hollywood bad guy? If you’re British, you’re already halfway there”, by Justine Elias, The Guardian (Friday 21 July 2000)

In fact, using English accents as shorthand for villainy is a way of proving you're not racist!

“Darth Maul speaks the King’s English, and he is the most evil, most awful guy – but the Royals aren’t getting on our case. Are English butlers getting upset about C3PO?”

-- Lucasfilm spokesperson, quoted in “Something to offend everyone”, by Andy Seiler, USA Today (27 June 1999) [sorry, URL link's expired]

When I first heard that someone (not Disney, I forget who) was making a cartoon version of Anastasia, I thought: "Great. The bad guy will be Lenin with a toff English accent. And his snivelling sidekicks will be a talking hammer and sickle". Well, close -- it was Rasputin, with a non-BBC accent, and his sidekick was a talking bat. But my irony-meter had already overloaded, only 30 seconds into watching the video, after realising that the main hit on the soundtrack for this movie about a deposed Romanov princess was a song by Richard Marx.