What Cinema Taught Me About Being British

I always fancied myself a British woman—the kind who was born in the wrong country, of course. But alas (do Brits say “alas”?), I was born in the good ole U.S. of A. Though, if I am more well suited as a brash American, I surely should have at least married a British man. But as my husband so kindly reassures me, there’s still time and he believes in me. He’s not bad for an American.* So while my life has been tragically un-British, luckily I have films to teach me everything there is to know about being British.

*Submit your British husband application in the comments section. Requirements: male and British—or possessing the ability to trick me into believing you’re British with a convincing accent or Jude Law-like features. If you have a royal title, the job is yours—and consider this my official resignation from my ever-sunny, Californian life.

**Also, this piece may encompass anyone in cinema from the UK, who seems like he/she might be from the UK, or who has a convincing enough accent to confuse me into believing he/she is from the UK.

In the early days of filmmaking, American actors shied away from playing villains, fearing audiences would struggle to separate fiction from reality. British actors were often cast as the bad guys, and we simply never stopped recruiting their polished, sophisticated selves for the part. If cinema taught me anything about our more refined counterpart, it’s that British people are the scariest kind of people.

There are countless films where British actors use their British accents to say evil, villainous things in fancier-sounding ways. But what’s most intriguing is when American filmmakers choose British actors to play American villains. Yes, British people are so terrifying, U.S. filmmakers rely on them to play Americans over actual Americans. Which brings me to my first British veteran bad guy. At this point, I’m not even sure who can claim flawless Daniel Day-Lewis. (I say that not because I truly don’t know but as half a testament to the master of accents and half hoping people will forget and we Americans can claim him for ourselves.) Day-Lewis is so much a master of accents I’m fairly confident if he and real Abraham Lincoln were in the same room, English Day-Lewis could easily usurp his job. He’s in that Hugh Laurie club. You know, the one where the actor so skillfully sounds American even U.S. audiences are stunned to see an interview where his English suddenly sounds, well, like it’s supposed to, I guess. When Day-Lewis isn’t busy looking cold and stoic in his most recent Oscar-winning role, he’s playing horrifying 19th and 20th century Americans. Day-Lewis’ Bill “The Butcher” in Gangs of New York and his Daniel Plainview in There Will Be Blood were creatures too terrifying to be played by any American. Cinema must’ve taught Scorsese and Anderson the same thing it taught me (re: British people are horrifying).

To further prove British bad guy-ness is not simply restricted by an accent, see Christian Bale. If American Psycho taught us anything, it’s that young Christian Bale is unbelievably good looking. But if it managed to teach us anything else, it’s probably something along the lines of, “If you need a bad guy, pick someone who misspells ‘favorite.’” Bale’s chilling performance ensured his status as a household name. (Though Christian Bale will always be Laurie from Little Women to me. Jo, you fool! I digress.)

And as perhaps the most famous villain of all time, see Sir Anthony Hopkins as Hannibal Lector in The Silence of the Lambs. Hopkins appears for a mere 17 minutes of the 118 minute film, yet his portrayal of the deranged serial killer haunts even 25 years later. British people are inherently scary, even when not playing Brits.

Sliding Doors

Miramax Films

If it weren’t for movies, I likely wouldn’t know the next thing all British people have in common: They are ridiculously good looking. I know what you’re thinking, “Grace! Cinema didn’t teach you that British people are good looking. Cinema taught you that actors are good looking.” I know, I know. Actors are attractive…it’s not just the Brits. But it is just the Brits.

Take John Hannah in the under-seen ‘90s rom-com Sliding Doors for example. Scottish Hannah is mad hot. Yeah, mad hot. And he’s not even that attractive, objectively speaking. But the delightfully charming, Monty-Python-quoting character is completely lovable, not to mention the general good guy-ing he does across London made him one of my first actor crushes. Hell, I even watched all three Mummy movies for that man.

Not only did cinema teach me how devastatingly good looking British people are, it taught me that they can do any fucking thing they’d like and people will still love them. Take Hugh Grant in basically every film in which Hugh Grant has ever appeared. He seems quintessentially British in every way to this American. He’s a bumbling idiot who regularly screws everything up with the girl and still gets the girl in the end. I don’t know if anyone has come up with the formula for his successful rom-com characters, the percentages, perhaps, of bumbling fool, classically good looks, darling accent, and odd likeability that that man has, but I’d wager there’s a percentage somewhere in there that belongs solely to his English nationality. Even the best looking American actors couldn’t have gotten away with that for as many decades as Grant has managed to pull that off.

The list of attractive British actors is never-ending, so rather than dump a list of swoon-worthy stars on you, let’s just say if you find yourself oddly (or not so oddly) attracted to an actor, it’s likely because he’s British. He can’t help it and neither can you.

And there you have it. Everything you could possibly need to know about being British, according to cinema. And if I may be so bold, I’m sure my English friends and brother-in-law learned something today, too. You’re welcome.

Featured Image: Love Actually, Universal Pictures

 

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Grace Porter
Grace writes out of San Diego. To contact: Grace@audienceseverywhere.net