Why Do Americans In Old Movies Sound British?



If you’re a fan of old movies, you may have noticed that American actors often sound British and wondered why. In those days, actors sought out voice coaches, who taught them to speak in the most effective way to record. Since Americans often had regional accents, the goal was to adopt a sound that was neutral. “The rain in Spain stays mainly in the plain” was a phrase that embodied the idea of changing one’s accent to get that neutral sound. Throughout the Golden Age of Hollywood, stars like Katharine Hepburn and Bette Davis employed what’s known as a “Mid-Atlantic accent” — a sort of American-British hybrid of speaking that relies on tricks like dropping “R” sounds and softening vowels in order to convey wealth and sophistication on the silver screen. The real secret of it, in terms of what Hollywood was packaging, was that you could find yourself upwardly mobile by only changing the sound of your voice. While you might not hear the Mid-Atlantic accent regularly in modern movies, its legacy hasn’t vanished entirely. Today it's an accent we tend to make fun of, but as realism entered American cinema, the writing would have already been on the wall for this kind of fake, nondescript Mid-Atlantic accent, even if it hadn't started falling out of use earlier.