Movies & Television

Why British Baddies Rule the Movies – from the Sheriff of Nottingham to Sweeney Todd and Shere Khan!

Disney, Hollywood and even Bollywood seem to think all bad guys are British!

Heard of actor Tony Jay? Most probably not, but most of us will know Frollo from the Hunchback of Notre Dame. Jay provides an English voiceover for the less-than-charismatic character of Frollo who seems to challenge us on a number of issues. Not only is he a corrupt member of the church, but he also seems to be battling a number of internal demons and his wickedness is accentuated by his callous nature and indifferent, cold British accent! 

However, this is nothing new. The English Accent and wickedness seem to go hand in hand.  Scar from the Lion King, Shere Khan from The Jungle Book and wicked Lord Shen from the Kung Fu Panda all share one common flaw or united wickedness- they are voiced by English Voice Talent.  Gary Oldman provided an outstanding English voiceover for Peacock’s Lord Shen, and George Sanders sparkled in his sinister portrayal of Shere Khan.  And Scar… well he’s jealous and generally sneaky and unlikeable. So, we know that Disney likes its English speaking villains. But what about Hollywood?

Hollywood, too, seems to prefer to create notorious English scoundrels.  Alan Rickman, for example, was perfect for the role of the Sheriff of Nottingham in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves (1991). Rickman terrifically portrayed himself as the greedy, lustful and loathsome Sheriff George. In fact- Rickman has played more than a few nasty characters in his time- the most memorable being that of covetous Judge Turpin in Sweeney Todd. A role heightened by his English accent.

Naturally, the large numbers of English-speaking villains is rather concerning. Why has the Queen’s English become part of the arsenal of bandits, dacoits and villains? It must be the irony, apparently, audiences love the stark contrast of a well-spoken villain and less than lawful misdeeds.

Although The Queen’s English was once coveted by the masses- and symbolised intelligence and refinement- this is no longer the case. Speaking in Received Pronunciation now signifies a lack of sincerity and a reason for mistrust. On the other hand, audiences now seem to be more trustful of those speaking in a non-received pronunciation. So, move over Lords and Ladies, it’s time for us common folk to shine.

Despite the falling popularity of The Queen’s English, the English language is still popular across the globe. Popular TV shows such as Game of Thrones use a large variety of English accents and are a huge hit with audiences. At the peak of its viewing, Game of Thrones amassed global audience viewings of 30 million viewers per episode!

But the love affair with the English Language is not confined to native English speaking countries! Bollywood seems to have picked up on the trend a long time ago. Australian born actor Bob Christo has been playing the villain, or badmaash in Bollywood since the 1980s! And though he isn’t English- he’s had a good try at playing British roles in Bollywood.

So maybe… we’ll soon see a new era for British villains. One which sees us starring in a wide range of genres and allows us to deliver a diverse range of English accents and English voice talent!

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