Tony Curran’s accent in ‘Outlaw King’

screenshot (150)I talked a lot about Chris Pine’s accent in ‘Outlaw King’ because it is always interesting to see how well non-Scottish actors adopt Scottish accent. Actors speaking in their own country’s accent rarely get much attention but they are worth talking about as well.

While watching Outlaw King, it quickly became clear that Chris Pine succeeded in acquiring a Scottish accent. A few vowels here and there could have been more crisp or fronted and his intonation could have been improved, but other than that he did a great job. Throughout the movie, my attention therefore was drawn to another actor: Tony Curran as Aonghus Óg Mac Domhnaill aka Angus Macdonald.

Tony Curran was born in Glasgow so I was surprised when he didn’t speak with a Weegie accent. The following two features particularly stuck out as different from Curran’s native Glaswegian accent:

  1. Many English accents have two types of L: a light L and a dark one. Try and say the words ‘live’ and ‘fill’ out loud. Can you feel how your tongue touches the front of your palate in ‘live’ but that there’s more action in the back of your mouth for the L in ‘fill‘? The L in ‘live’ sounds quite light while the L in ‘fill’ has a darker quality to it. In Outlaw King, Curran pronounces syllable-final Ls in words like ‘kill’ with a light L when most English accents usually use a dark L in the same position. Some Scottish speakers (Glaswegians for example) even tend to vocalise syllable-final Ls. This means that those speakers use a vowel instead of an L. For these L-vocalising speakers the word milk sounds more like mi-ook ([mɪʊk] instead of [mɪlk]). Light Ls in syllable-final position like Curran used them as Angus Macdonald are usually found in Irish accents or for non-native English speakers.
  2. Interestingly, Curran’s accent as Angus Macdonald also lacked GOOSE/FOOT fronting. You might remember this feature from my previous posts about Pine’s Scottish accent. There I mentioned that the GOOSE and FOOT vowels are usually fronted in Scottish accents, i.e. pronounced with the tongue closer to the front of the mouth. Irish accents are known for pronouncing those vowels quite far in the back. You can hear Curran do that when he says ‘look’ or ‘lose’.

Both these features are commonly associated with Irish accents. Now, you might wonder why a Scottish character like Angus Macdonald should use Irish features. To solve this riddle we need to know more about Curran’s character in Outlaw King: Aonghus Óg Mac Domhnaill was from Islay, the southernmost Island of the Hebrides and as such very close to Ireland. Islay was traditionally Gaelic speaking and it can be assumed that Angus must have been a Gaelic speaker as well. In the movie you can even hear Angus’ people singing songs in Gaelic when Robert the Bruce and his companions are on Islay. Gaelic is one of the few remaining Celtic languages and closely related to Irish Gaelic (Gaeilge) spoken in Ireland. Gaeilge had an immense influence on the way the Irish people spoke English and – considering how closely related Irish Gaeilge and Scottish Gaelic are – it makes sense that Scottish Gaelic had a similar influence on Scottish English speakers such as Angus Macdonald.

Like I mentioned before: foreigners attempting a Scottish accent usually receive more attention than actual Scotsmen in the same movie. People naturally also focus on the main character’s accent more than supporting characters’. This doesn’t mean that supporting roles aren’t any more important or that supporting actors don’t have to put in as much work. As a Scotsman, Curran could have probably used his own, Weegie accent for this role and nobody would have complained. By deciding to use a more accurate accent, Curran indirectly tells us more about the character he’s playing and he therefore adds another layer to his acting. Curran clearly showed that accurate accents are important for all characters – no matter how minor or major they are. The fact that Curran took that extra step and spoke like an actual Gaelic speaker from Islay shows great dedication to the role and adds to the audience’s enjoyment of the movie.

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