As BBC News noted this weekend, the recent films The Reader and Valkyrie have raised some questions about how accents should be handled on film, particularly by how these two films handle the same matter very differently. In The Reader, German characters who are supposedly speaking German to one another speak English with German accents. (Kate Winslet speaks in her native tongue with a put-on accent; native German speaker David Cross learned English for the role, but speaks it with a German accent.) But in Valkyrie — in which again all the characters are presumed to be speaking German to one another — everyone speaks in English with their own native accents, with many different English accents plus one American, one Dutch, and one German accent each among the main cast.
The issue of accents on film is far ranging one, so let’s limit this question to just instances such as these two films raise: Should cinematic Nazis speak English? If so, should they speak it with a German accent?
I’m in agreement with the BBC News piece, that it all depends on the context. I think both films work just fine in how they deal with the matter. What’s more, unless we insist that all movies actually be produced in the language they’re supposedly occuring in, it’s absurd for anyone to get upset about what accent an actor uses. Ragging on a bad performance of an accent is fine: but complaining that no actor, no matter how well she pulls off a nonnative accent, should be using a nonnative accent in whatever particular circumstance the complainer is complaining about, is ridiculous.
(If you have a suggestion for a QOTD, feel free to email me.)