Robin Hood is one of the most adapted folktales to grace the silver screen, with movies falling at various points on the spectrum of good and bad entertainment. The most recent adaptation arrived this month with Taron Egerton playing the titular role and unlike its predecessors, it has not aimed for any sort of historical accuracies. However, one tradition it does continue from past films is the inability of the actor playing the hero to actually get his flipping accent right.
Yes, I know what you’re probably thinking: It’s not that deep, he’s a fictional character, why does it matter?
Well, first of all, I’m from South Yorkshire where Robin Hood is from. Second of all, he is one of the few globally recognized names to have his origins outside of the London bubble so it would be nice if the accent I grew up around was actually represented.
Lots of people outside of the UK talk about the “British accent” like it’s a one-size-fits-all and that’s probably because most shows and movies focus on London-centric stories and cast actors who use either the Queen’s English or Cockney jargon. Our country has a diverse range of voices but the UK entertainment industry continues to make it hard for people outside of the capital to get work or retain their regional twang when they get cast.
Black Mirror and The Bisexual star Maxine Peake has spoken about this discrimination for several years. She’s a RADA-trained actress who hails from the North — she’s from Bolton — but says she’s auditioned for roles and been told that her accent was too “Northern.”
“You can get away with doing posh all the time but if you do Northern a lot they say, ‘Oh, are you doing Northern again?’ like you’re playing the same character continually,” Peake told the Telegraph in 2014. “But nobody says to Judi Dench, ‘Oh, Judi, love, you’re not going to do that RP again?’ I mean, she’s a fantastic actress. But I do think if you’ve got a regional accent you’re not taken as seriously.”
That’s why it’s so frustrating when a character is actually meant to be from the North they aren’t played that way.
Robin of Loxley is one of his monikers and Loxley is a town located in South Yorkshire where its forest, Loxley Chase, spreads into Nottinghamshire territory to join up with the Nottingham Forest of legend.
There are several pieces of High Medieval literature that point to South Yorkshire being the folk here’s place of birth in the 12th Century and in John Harrison’s Exact and Perfect Survey and View of the Mannor of Sheffield, published in 1637, it claims a Robin Locksley was born in the area in 1160. However, if the film adaptations are anything to go by our man Robin is from anywhere but South Yorkshire.
Errol Flynn’s version in The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938) sounds like he went to Eton with Tom Hiddleston, an accent Cary Elwes took inspiration from when he played the character in Mel Brooks’ 1993 parody Robin Hood: Men in Tights. In the film he mocks past performers who can't do the English accent — Sean Connery, of course, made him Scottish in the 1976 film Robin and Marian while Kevin Costner's American accent in 1991’s Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves is legendary — but you didn't get the right accent either, pal.
The Disney adaptation had West Yorkshire born actor Brian Bedford voice the anthropomorphic Robin, but you can hear how his accent has been streamlined of short vowels in favor of the long vowels to make it more Southern sounding. Then there’s Russell Crowe’s ridiculous attempt in the 2010 adaptation. Part-Geordie, part-London, part-Indian, part-Anne Hathaway in One Day, it might be the worst attempt by any Robin Hood actor.
Welshman Taron Egerton at least made his sound more modern Midlands but again it errs on the Southern side of caution rather than the Northern. Douglas Fairbanks arguably did the best Robin Hood accent in the 1922 silent movie, for obvious reasons, but one has to wonder why, for these more recent films, the studios didn’t hire better voice coaches, Northern actors, or even one actor in particular.
Sean Bean is the best actor to have never played Robin Hood, which is madness considering his origins are so close to the folk hero’s. Bean is from Sheffield in South Yorkshire, which is not far from Loxley and has never lost his Yorkshire twang. He’s famous for it and it’s no doubt why he was cast as Ned Stark in Game of Thrones where the North is represented by considerable Northern accents. The actor has always wanted to play the role and is such a fan that he even unveiled a statue of the outlaw at the Robin Hood Airport Doncaster Sheffield in 2007.
"I'd love to play Robin Hood on the big screen,” he said at the time. “It's 16 years since Kevin Costner did it. Now it's my time.”
It should have been his time in 2010 when Ridley Scott was making his Robin Hood movie but such is the life of a Northern actor; you’re either told to lose the accent or you don’t get cast in roles where your accent is needed. Hopefully by the time the next Robin Hood movie gets made, probably in a year or so, our lad will get the authentic performance he deserves.
I’d be reight chuffed I would.