The Moon Knight trailer is here! Oscar Isaac joins the Marvel Cinematic Universe! He sounds like Dick Van Dyke’s Edwardian chimney sweep!
Eh? No. Let’s roll that back a bit.
Since the release of the first trailer for the new Disney Plus superhero spectacular series, Moon Knight, Disney’s answer to Batman, the internet has had a good long chuckle at Oscar Isaac’s British accent.
He plays Marc Spector, a supernaturally-charged hero with advanced strength, expert combat skills, the occasional vision and links to the moon god Khonshu which clouds his mind and results in a dissociative disorder. And, if you were to believe the baying internet public, he’s got one of the worst British accents an American actor has attempted on screen in recent times.
I don’t think that’s at all fair though. As someone born within the mythically-designated aural zone of the Bow Bells (at least in terms of how they’d have rung out across a quieter London in centuries past), I am that rarest of things – a lifelong, native Londoner, and gen-u-wine Cockney.
And to my trained ear, Isaac is doing a pretty bloody good job of getting a London accent right. It’s what our ears have gotten used to, and what that accent has come to represent in TV and cinema, that’s the real issue.
Waxing and waning accents
The bigger problem, I think, is to do with the representation of different British accents on our screens, generally. For decades, so called “RP” received pronunciation dominated, with perfect elocution perceived as the best way to represent the greatest of Great Britains in all its pomp. That in itself soon fell into caricature, and so the wider range of British accents begin to turn up, further accentuating class differences and often using regional accents for comic effect. You’ve got the lary Cockney Artful Dodger in Oliver Twist, as most famously played by Jack Wild. The “stage Irish”. A generation of kids brought up on Scrooge McDuck as their first introduction to a Scots accent. These stereotypes span decades – it’s no wonder Dick Van Dyke’s infamous Mary Poppins turn so readily fit the mould.
Times have changed, representation has improved, but there’s a different issue now at play. The British accent of favoured export is now middle or northern English – the earthy, humble heroes of Game of Thrones’ Stark family (it’s not lost on me that Kit Harrington is a Londoner, by the way), the graft of Vicky McClure and Stephen Graham in The Line of Duty.
At some point in recent times, perhaps thanks to the excellent work of director Shane Meadows, Northern accents have become a staple of our TV viewing – representative of the hard-working everyman.
But London accents, outside of Westminster, remain something of a caricature on our screens – the ongoing Eastenders sagas, the soap-opera docu-drama of The Only Way is Essex.
As such, as soon as we hear an accent that’s not RP, not comfortingly middle-England, not Westminster, we’re ready to dismiss it as a joke and write it off as Dick Van Dyke Mark II.
Knees up mother Moon Knight
But I know people that sound like Oscar Isaac’s Moon Knight. The East Londoner’s diaspora along the Thames Estuary has led to a more diverse collection of accents than we usually see on TV, and to my ear Isaac’s character could quite easily be found riding a C2C train between London’s Limehouse and the more suburban Essex areas. But because we haven’t had a Cockney wear a cape and cowl before, the instinct is to jump on it reflexively as a joke.
The complication here is that, as any Moon Knight fan knows – and, be warned, there are light spoilers coming – the character proves to be American, with a disorder that sees him assume other, different personalities. It’s a get out of jail card for Oscar Isaac – any fluctuation in accent accuracy can be written off as a character wrestling with two sides of their identity and, as far as the trailer goes, one that seems to be dealing with a severe amount of hallucinatory distress. But even so, that Londoner side sounds pretty good to me.
So Oscar, if you’re reading and ever fancy a pint in a proper London boozer with me, give me a shout – you’ll fit right in.