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How the Edwardians Spoke (2007)

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Joan Washington ...
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Documentary

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6 May 2007 (UK)  »

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The lack of structure and focus is a problem at times but the parts on accent are fascinating
6 June 2007 | by (United Kingdom) – See all my reviews

Joan Washington is an expert in accents, who has worked in training actors in hundreds of different accents for television and movie roles. She travels to Germany to listen to an archive of English regional accents recorded from prisoners of war from WW1 during a research project (that was supposedly funded because the German government planned to use it to train those sent out to control these various regions once they won the war). Washington explores several of the accents in regards the structure and possible formative factors as well as playing the recordings to relatives and comparing the recordings to modern accents to see how they have changed.

For most of the film this is a very interesting documentary based around the WW1 recordings but the reasons for this differs throughout. Parts of the film focus on the formative factors of accents; other parts discuss the individuals; some parts look at modern accents; others detail the nature of the German project and so on. In a way this produces lots of individual scenes that are interesting for different reasons but it also creates the problem that the film feels fragmented and rather structured. Some points about accents were fascinating. I didn't buy all of them but I was fascinated by the idea that the accents are connected to landscapes (such as flat counties producing accents that don't vary over many notes as opposed to the rolling notes of the Welsh accent) or other factors (the nasal quality of accents in some ports where it sort of sounds like people have slightly blocked noses).

The problem is that the film doesn't make enough of this and ends up mixing in issues of relatives and the German project. This was perhaps unavoidable but I did feel like they spent too long on these other things and let the interesting discussion of accents drop off the screen for times. What it does instead is still quite interesting but at times I was fascinated by parts of it and got really into the subject but the film as a whole didn't inject this passion into me.

Overall though an interesting film mainly because it is not a subject that I had put a lot of thought into or had appreciated. Washington is an interesting presenter and makes her passion obvious while also making the subject interesting. The film's structure could have done with a bit more development to play to its strengths but even with this problem it is still an interesting film.


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