Anne Hathaway’s Accent in ‘One Day’

In news of the dialect work of movie stars, the romantic comedy One Day opens soon. As I did with Mel Gibson’s accent in The Beaver, I’d like to briefly examine Anne Hathaway‘s “Yorkshire accent” in this adaptation of the popular novel. Here’s the trailer:

[Ed. Note: Writing this originally, I was unaware there were several clips from the film online. Having watched two of these, I have to say: I’m pretty impressed. Compare this clip to this clip from later in the film. She clearly makes the latter sound less “Northern” than the former, which is a pretty darn nuanced thing for an actor to do.]

You’ll notice I put “Yorkshire accent” in quotation marks. To me, this phrase makes as much sense as referring to a “Northeastern accent” in the United States. We’re talking about a large tract of the country with numerous dialects which, although similar, have some serious differences as well (e.g. some are rhotic, some are non-rhotic).

With that in mind, I can’t reliably assess Hathaway’s accent. I’m not quite sure where she’s supposed to be from. Her character is described in various synopses as a “working-class” girl working hard to get an education and “better herself.” That would suggest someone inclined to soften the marked regionalisms in their accent, complicating my impression of the dialect work here.

In terms of generally “Northern” English features, she seems consistent with the raising of words like “touched” and “but.”  Pretty much all other features of Northern English vary, however, so I won’t comment on other aspects of her accent.

Of course, the film’s release will no doubt prompt a number of ill-informed rants, editorials and hatchet jobs. To which I’d say: give Hathaway a break. I can’t pinpoint which type of Yorkshire accent she’s supposed to be using here, but I didn’t find it overly distracting or “American”-sounding.  I’ll reserve my judgements until I see the actual movie (which looks kind of cute, no?)

What do we think?

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About Ben

Ben Trawick-Smith launched his dialect fascination while working in theatre. He has worked as an actor, playwright, director, critic and dialect coach. Other passions include linguistics, urban development, philosophy and film.
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37 Responses to Anne Hathaway’s Accent in ‘One Day’

  1. Amy Stoller says:

    I don’t think it’s possible to judge from a trailer – certainly not from this one. Apparently Ms. Hathaway worked hard on shifting her character’s accent over time (the 20-year time-span in the story) as she (the character) is influenced by other sources than “home.” She also had to walk a line between authenticity and intelligibility to American audiences. I’d have to see the entire film before forming an opinion.

    Ms. Hathaway is quoted in at least one article discussing listening to people who had moved away from Yorkshire to find some of her character’s speech shifts. By all accounts, she took the dialect aspect of the project very seriously.

    When it comes to this sort of thing, while I’m happy to praise, I don’t care to trash the hard work of people I consider colleagues – even if we’ve never met. (We are in the same industry, after all.) For one thing, if I didn’t work on the project, I don’t know what obstacles were put in the way of accent/dialect success. As I’m sure you know, but perhaps some readers of this blog do not, often actors and coaches are not given even remotely adequate time to work together, no matter how much both parties would like to have that time. Perhaps I miss an opportunity to educate people on dialect work, which is a laudable effort; but I just wouldn’t be comfortable doing so at an actor’s expense.

    • trawicks says:

      Agreed. I only post things like this when I see the amateur journalistic dialecticians (usually on the other side of the pond, alas) readying their guns to take down actors for no good reason. And in this case, as you mention, it makes no sense. You can’t tell much of anything from the trailer.

      I must say, this is the third time (after Mel Gibson in “The Beaver” and Michelle Collins on “Coronation Street”), where an actor has been raked through the coals for NO reason whatsoever. Odd, because in my mind, we’ve entered something of the golden age of accent work in film.

  2. zpc says:

    I have to agree that it’s hard to tell from so little, especially with that jack-the-lad getting all the camera time, and not knowing where in the timeline the little snippets fall. In most of it she sounds desperately posh to my ear, but a couple of places there some hints of, well, northern England at least, though I wouldn’t even say there’s enough there to pin it to Yorkshire. But I can just about see that she could possibly be portraying a Yorkshire lass who moved south, tried like heck to sound like everyone else, and largely succeeded except in odd slips?

  3. Christopher Griffin says:

    Taking the examples in the trailer, there is no sign of Yorkshire, or working-class in the accent. All I can hear is middle-class with a lame attempt at something vaguely northern-English sounding.

    The rest of the film may be better.

  4. m.m. says:

    Strange how it really bothers me when she says “julie” @0:27
    It sounds too american. It’s like it doesn’t sound right without a yod after the [dʒ].

    • Dw says:

      A yodless “Julie” is not necessarily American. RP and most regional English accents lost the yod after the postalveolars centuries ago. I’m tempted to say that no contemporary accent has the semivowel there (as opposed to a falling diphthong) but someone will probably prove me wrong.

      • m.m. says:

        I know that it’s not, but her yodless form is perceived as quite american to my ears, and my mind easily went to thinking an english accent should use a yod, which was strange.

    • trawicks says:

      @zpc,

      That’s my take on it. She actually sounds fairly similar to a number of young women I’ve met from the North who have mostly adopted Southern/Estuary/RP features while maintaining a hint of their regional accent.

      @Christopher,

      I would argue she’s not trying to go for “working-class,” but rather somebody consciously trying to disassociate herself FROM the working-class.

      @m.m / Dw,

      I’m curious as to how “Julie” would be pronounced with the yod intact (it’s a person’s name, so it’s obviously infrequent in speech!)

      • dw says:

        @trawicks:

        I’m curious as to how “Julie” would be pronounced with the yod intact

        [ˈdʒjuːli], naturally!

        Thinking about what I wrote above, I realize that I can have phonetic [ˈdʒjuː] in some words: but these are always from underlying /dju:/.

        For example, “Dune”, which for me is underlying /dju:n/, could be realized either [dju:n] or [dʒju:n] (with the former more formal). “June”, on the other hand, can only be [dʒu:n]. (I’m RP-ish in this respect).

        • dw says:

          And, while it’s not uncommon for English accents to have [dʒu:n] for “dune”, I would never pronounce it that way.

        • trawicks says:

          I think it’s the cluster of [dʒj] that stumps me: I find the combination of alveolar + palato-alveolar + palatal tricky to pull off. Needless to say, it’s unsurprising many people drop the yod in this word!

  5. Jim Johnson says:

    It’s hard to say much, having heard so little, but she’s got at least some elements that hint at Yorkshire. As others have mentioned, it seems a bit posh at times, but I don’t know the overall story well enough to know just what they were really going for here. It’s absolutely true that we can’t see/hear enough here to make a real call on this… I respect her fear, which also indicates that she’s aware she was taking on quite a challenge. I’d rather praise her for a valiant attempt than tear her down for some of her errors; it’s a hell of a job balancing the dialect with the acting with the pressures with all the rest that goes into this. It takes a lot of guts to do what she’s doing, going into it knowing full well that so many will tear her down as un-authentic, even if she nails it.

    • trawicks says:

      I will say, regarding the “posh” thing, that Jim Sturgess’ accent also strikes me as a bit “posh” in the trailer–and he’s actually English! Given England’s complex history with regards to dialects, the question of what’s “real” and what isn’t can be a very subjective thing.

      Unfortunately, if an actor takes an accent in any direction, no matter how justified by the text, there’s some kind of “criticism” to be found. If the accent is 100% spot-on, people complain that it’s “overdone.” If the accent is “subtler,” people complain that it’s inauthentic. I understand this from audiences, but I’ve been downright infuriated when journalists and especially critics make such unsubstantiated criticisms.

  6. Ed says:

    I am from Yorkshire. From the brief clips, there were two things that I noticed as alien to local speech:
    1 Consonants in Yorkshire are usually not aspirated (k, p, t). I understand that this is not an easy thing for outsiders to imitate. Rest assured that it is just as difficult to learn to aspirate them if you are not used to it.
    2 The diphthong in “face” when she’s on the phone. All Yorkshire accents have a monophthong here.

    The vowel in “crush” in the opening lines is not right, but she gets the other STRUT words correct.

    I’ve sometimes thought that, if you take a Yorkshire accent and posh it up a bit, you get an East Midlands accent (one of the least distinctive in the UK). From this short clip, she could just as easily be from the East Midlands as from Yorkshire.

    No attempt at a Yorkshire accent can be worse than in the 1963 film “This Sporting Life”.

    • Tom H says:

      I’ve always thought that lack of aspiration of the voiceless stops was a Lancashire thing.

      • Ed says:

        That’s probably because John Wells only mentions it in the context of Lancashire in “Accents of English”, but it extends to most Yorkshire accents as well.

        Yorkshire and Lancashire have a big rivalry, but the accent does not change suddenly over the border: it drifts gradually from one coast to the other. I don’t think that anyone would have difficulty distinguishing between Wigan and Hull but you would between Rochdale and Halifax.

        • Tom H says:

          John who mentions it in what? I just thought it was Lancastrian from personal experience. I haven’t heard it in Bradford or Sheffield, but maybe I’ve just gone to the wrong places.

    • trawicks says:

      Regarding the diphthong in “face,” it strikes me that “face” might be diphthongized by someone from Yorkshire who has moved away from the North. I’ve spoken to quite a few Irish people in the States who would be expected to exhibit monophthongal “goat” and “face” given where they’re from, but use diphthongs instead.

      I’d also mention that Leeds, from what I’ve read, seems to exhibit variably monophthongal pronunciations–speakers seem to vary between a monopthong and a closing diphthong.

      • Ed says:

        Yes, I’d say that FACE and GOAT would typically be the first vowels that someone who moved away would change, so I might’ve been overly harsh on Anne here. We’ll have to wait for the film to come out to see how well the accent fits in with her moving away from home.

        Your second point is correct as well. There are some words that are more likely than others to be diphthongised (e.g. eight, straight), which is often a result of different origins.

  7. boynamedsue says:

    Speaking plainly, as a Yorkshireman should (I say what I like, and I like what I say). There are parts where I get a convincing bit of Sheffield there, but it’s hard to tell without seeing more (which I won’t because from the trailer it doesn’t seem to have space Aliens or shooting or owt in it).

  8. Kerry St Aubyn says:

    I was hoping she would do okay, but really her accent is horrendous. It’s really hard to describe, it doesn’t seem to resemble any accent in particular; and really that’s quite a feat in its own way: Anne has managed to create an entirely nondescript, yet entirely unique accent – one never before heard by the ears’ of humanity.

  9. Ed says:

    On the point about rhoticity, I doubt that any more than 1% of Yorkshire is rhotic any more. I’ve only ever come across it in some of the western fringes that border Lancashire.

  10. trawicks says:

    @boynamedsue,

    I was thinking maybe Sheffield as well. Another reason I wouldn’t judge Hathaway is that I don’t know if she’s from a city or a rural area. A pretty big distinction, as far as Yorkshire is concerned.

    @Kerry,

    It’s true that her accent has “never before heard by the ears’ of humanity,” but then again NOBODY’s has. I think she should be given a break, because I think she’s accounting for the fact that her character would be likely to change her own accent given the circumstances.

    @Ed,

    That’s a good point. Even in the SED it was only found in a small handful of speakers. That’s probably more clearly divisive feature, but I can’t think of it at the moment!

    • Ed says:

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yorkshire_dialect#Vowel_table Here is a comparison of two urban Yorkshire accents: Hull and Sheffield. I think it’s clear that Anne’s accent is more like Sheffield than like Hull.

      The area around Whitby is quite different from the rest of Yorkshire. The intonation starts to resemble Geordie more once you get north of the Moors. It’s not surprising when you consider that crossing the Moors is no easy task.

      • trawicks says:

        Interesting chart! The thing that’s always stuck out for me with Sheffield dialects is the PRICE vowel (transcribed on the chart as [ɑɪ], but I’ve also seen it written as [ɑ:ɪ], maintaining the lengthened onglide common in Northern accents). Fittingly given the city’s geography, it lies in between the broad [ɒi] of Midlands accents and the [a:ɪ] or [a:] of Northern accents.

  11. Jim Johnson says:

    Here’s a little of Anne Hathaway self-deprecating – I think she’s beyond realistic about her skills, probably underplaying them quite a bit:

    http://www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk/entertainment/news/hathaway-brit-accent-a-challenge-16036680.html

    • trawicks says:

      Not a bad attitude to take … I’ve see far too many people felled by the opposite: an overconfident attitude about their skill level!

  12. Amy Stoller says:

    Congrats on your quote in HuffPost at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/08/19/anne-hathaway-accent_n_931071.html

    I thought it was a nice piece, although they spoiled it by being snarky elsewhere.

  13. SimonMagus says:

    I’ve lived in Leeds all my life, and I have to say, her attempt at the Leeds accent is appalling. She can’t even do generic Northern properly. Did she actually have any voice coaching with someone who has visited Leeds?

  14. Amy Stoller says:

    For the record, the dialect coach on One Day was Jill McCullough, one third of the authorship team of “Comma Gets a Cure.” She is highly qualified and respected. If and when you see the film, folks, do remember that coaches and actors do not always get the time and support they need for this work from producers and production schedules, and that often neither producers nor directors have any idea How This Stuff Works. When time is money, mere dialect coaches are not even on the list of people who can tell the holder of the purse-strings how either should be spent.

    • trawicks says:

      To expand on what Amy said: I want to reiterate that I don’t think the broadest of Leeds accents would have been appropriate for this role. I’ve known several people in the exact same position that Hathaways’ character was in: grew up in the North of England, went to University elsewhere. If you put any of their accents on film or stage they would probably be deemed “bad.” By the same standards, my mother could be described as having a “bad” Kentucky accent, and my father a “bad” Wisconsin accent. If this actor is to be judged, we should not use strict adherence to local accent features as the benchmark.

    • Perhaps it’s time producers and directors got a clue then… but in the end, a bad accent is a bad accent, and even if the failure is a group one, it’s the actor that looks bad. I’d never take on such a big role in an accent I wasn’t completely at home in without a lot of assurance I’d get the help and time required to nail it.

      And as a director I’d not hire someone who couldn’t get through a read through to my satisfaction.

      Just hire someone who can do it if you’re low on cash. You wouldn’t hire a trainee focus puller…

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  16. I think someone from yorkshire can hear one single sentence and tell you whether it’s a good accent or not – a whole movie of it just gives you an overall average. Certaibly a voice coach should be working on every single word that goes awry of every single sentence being spoken. Yes it’s a large region, with many accents, but all the more reason to choose something specific and stick to it.

    Of course there’s always the overdub after. Understandably get the scene shot. But if something’s glaringly awful…

    And of course she took it seriously, she should, it’s her job, for which she’s paid handsomely. If any actor can’t produce a realistic accent with all the help and advice that, at this level, we can assume they are offered (if not instructed to take) then the choice of casting should be called into question. There’s nothing wrong with being harsh in my opinion.

    Of the clips I’ve seen her accent is enough to put me off wanting to watch the movie, having lived in yorkshire and the north for most of my life. She’s a great actress, but I’d question her casting in this role, purely on accent.

    This said, if you’re not from the region, or do not know it well, all you might hear is ‘northern’ which is what I hear when I listen to ‘american north/south’! So maybe this is all moot.

  17. This is a topic that is near to my heart… Cheers! Exactly where are your contact details
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