Does the combination of a seemingly snobbish English accent and misconduct go hand in hand? And what connects Lady Tremaine, The Queen of Hearts, and Maleficent?
They are all voiced by a British voice talent. It seems audiences prefer their animated villains and villainesses to be prim and proper. A preference that even Disney seems to have exploited and reveled in for their animated productions.
Eleanor Audley, an actress from bygone eras, would perhaps be forgotten were it not for her memorable English voiceovers. Although the name Audley may be considered antiquated, her voiceovers in the Disney productions of Sleeping Beauty and Snow White will remain ageless. You were right in thinking that the voiceovers of Lady Tremaine and Maleficent sounded similar. They are both provided by Audley. Although Audley was well-known for her acting career, she perhaps created her longest-lasting legacy through her voiceovers.
But what is it exactly that makes the English voiceover so perfect for the role of a villainess? And is it just animated films that seem to prefer the ‘evil’ English accent? Or have we got a reputation for our heinous hues in Hollywood productions too?
Let’s look at some of the fairly recent Hollywood villainess’ roles. Helena Bonham Carter, the now well-known female actress seems to have excelled at playing corrupt and callous characters. Bonham Carter plays the less-than-reputable role of the Red Queen in the 2010 production of Alice in Wonderland. But what makes her English voice over so perfect for the role of the Red Queen?
Could it be England’s long legacy of female leaders? Perhaps the Red Queen is a reflection of Queen Mary, a tyrannical ruler who earned her nickname as Bloody Mary through the execution of thousands of protestants in England. Which would explain why Disney’s Red Queen is so keen to exclaim ‘off with their heads’!
However, Bonham Carter is well-known for many other devious roles. Helena’s portrayal of Bellatrix Lestrange in the Harry Potter series, and that of Mrs Lovett in Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, were both likewise loathsome.
Naturally, this leads us to question why the less than likable roles are played by those with an English accent? Why has Received Pronunciation, or that which is known as the Queen’s English, become associated with wicked and woeful women, both in animations and in Hollywood productions?
Perhaps the combination of a seemingly snobbish English accent and misconduct just go hand in hand? While some may still associate the Queens English, or Received Pronunciation with refinement and intelligence, the majority do not.
But does a villainess have to speak with a unanimously English accent?
It seems that villainess can be from further afield. The hit Marvel film ‘Thor Ragnarok’ allows Cate Blanchett to shine in her dark role as Hela, who wishes to rule as the tyrannical leader of Asgard. But Blanchett does not speak the Queen’s English. In fact, she has a very Australian accent… which coincidentally is not as easily distinguishable in her role as the evil stepmother in the 2015 production of Cinderella.
So perhaps this sparks the beginning of an era where villainesses will support a more varied accent? Or maybe the attitude to the English accent is changing? It would seem that Brits have a lot to offer… Or maybe they are just better at being bad?