Saoirse Ronan’s accent should not be a talking point

‘Debate’ over Irish actor’s voice is an excuse to lord it over a rich, famous young woman

Ahead of her appearance at the Golden Globes, Saoirse Ronan's accent has been the subject of much debate on our social media channels, here are a selection of interviews from throughout her career. Video: Focus Features/RTÉ/BBC/NBC

 

What sort of accent do you have? Is it exactly the same as the accent you had when you were a teenager? Does it vary, depending on where you are and the people you’re with?

If your answers to the second and third questions are “yes” and “no” respectively, then bully for you.

You’re a paragon of Ronseal-like authenticity, and in this small way - if no other - you can lord it over a 21-year-old woman who is richer, more famous and almost certainly more talented than you.

Saoirse Ronan is in the news a lot these days as she navigates the primetime chat show couches of the world as part of the obligatory pre-Oscars rigmarole.

However, some commenters on social media have decided they don’t like the “Dub” accent in which she speaks to the likes of Graham Norton, Jimmy Kimmel and Ellen DeGeneres.

It’s a fake, they protest. She didn’t have that accent five or six years ago! It sounds stage-Irish!

“I thought she was from Carlow? Why does she sound like she’s sellin ‘rappin payper?’” asked one post on the Irish Times Facebook page this week.

“I listened to her being interviewed just a few days ago and she had a completely different accent,” wrote another. “She must have been reading Roddy Doyle on the plane over.”

Why should we pay any attention to these mean-spirited whinges? Why should we care if, over the last decade, the modulations of Ronan’s speech have changed a bit?

And so what if her accent sounds different between her appearance on a British show one week and an American one the next?

In fact, why the hell should it matter if she chooses to change her accent halfway through every interview?

If you watch the short video at the top of this article, you’ll see that, essentially, Ronan has had the same accent since she first entered the public eye at the age of 13 with her Oscar-nominated performance in Atonement.

Yes, the accent seems a bit more pronounced in the most recent clip with Ellen DeGeneres. But there are a few reasons why that might be:

- 21-year-olds tend to favour larger gestures than 13-year-olds, and this also applies to the language they use;

- If you’re telling a story set in a Dublin nail salon, your Dublin accent may become more pronounced, and

- If you’re spending your life in a blizzard of Anglo-American PR, it might cause you (subconsciously or otherwise) to ramp up your natural accent a bit more.

The only thing that’s slightly interesting about this nonsense is that it represents a reversal of the usual fuss when it comes to movie stars and Irishness.

Past complaints

Most complaints in the past have been about the dismal failure of British and American actors to master the rudiments of how we speak English here.

Think Tom Cruise in Far and Away or, even worse, Kevin Spacey in Ordinary Decent Criminal.

Even more grim, consider the sad case of Irish-born actors such as Pierce Brosnan who struggle with a credible accent.

Now contrast that with Ronan, who has already delivered many believable British, American and Antipodean accents in a few short years, most of them when she was too young to vote.

International movie stars live in a strange half-world, where they are expected to inhabit a range of different roles while retaining some essence of a “real person” for the PR celebrity machine.

It’s not surprising that they would develop a persona - a sort of performance of a version of themselves - for public display.

Countless actors down the years have presented themselves in this way.

Not many have had to do it in the full glare of publicity from their early teens onwards. Saoirse Ronan’s doing a pretty good job so far.

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