Watch Mirror Mirror and you’ll see that despite Lily Collins‘ Snow White training to be a warrior princess and taking back her kingdom, almost equally the movie is about the Evil Queen, played by Julia Roberts. Unfortunately for Julia, perhaps the strongest thing you’ll take away from the performance is her bad English/medieval accent.
Julia has never been able to pull off a successful non-American accent; she even got a Razzie nomination in 1996 for her Lucky Charms-inspired Irish lilt in Mary Reilly. And yet, she still gets roles that require her tongue to twist around foreign sounds; she did an even worse job with her Irish accent in Michael Collins, and her Texan accent in Charlie Wilson’s War consistently pulled viewers out of the political dramedy.
In Mirror Mirror, that unevenness is even more pronounced because it almost sounds as if Julia has picked which lines to say as a medieval queen and which lines to say as, well, Julia Roberts. From the very beginning narration, it goes something like this:
(English accent) Once there lived a beautiful young princess trapped in a castle…
(American accent) But she was a little brat, so of course she was trapped up there.
We get Julia’s “authentic” accent for the more formal parts of the story, the parts where you’d expect to hear it; and then she adds provide some scathing aside that shows how much the Evil Queen hated her stepdaughter Snow White. It’s not until I started writing this essay on Julia Roberts’ bad movie accents that I realized… there’s a slim chance that this could be intentional.
Update: Thanks so much to commenter Emily for finding a video interview with Julia where she confirms that yes, her accent was intentional! You can watch the video at IMDb, but here’s the gist of it:
Julia: “To me, I just felt like, wherever she was from — middle America — when she became the Queen, she decided she would have this Queen voice that… It makes me laugh, it tickles me. I thought, You knwo what? I’m going to do that because it’s funny.”
Lily: ”I remember at the table read you started talking and we were all like, ‘Is that’s what she’s gonna do?’ I thought, Maybe she’s playing around with it, then we were on the set and I was like, Oh, that’s a choice! I quite like it.”
Julia: ”She’s in this bubble where she’s Judi Dench… with maybe some prescription-drug problems.”
Since my thinking was correct, I’m not going to change the tone of the rest of the article; the same argument is below.
Think about it—we’ve always known that Mirror Mirror would be an entry in the “modern humor in a period setting” brand of comedy as opposed to staunchly authentic. From the first trailer, it was clear that there would be anachronistic slang in how the characters talked, ostensibly to make this PG film more relatable to its young audiences and to draw in adults who would catch the witty side-jokes that went over kids’ heads.
Compare it to Charlize Theron, who stays firmly in-character for Snow White and the Huntsman, all formal language and haughty accent. (It probably helps that Charlize grew up speaking Afrikaans and still wrestles with English.) The comparison extends to the two Snow Whites: Kristen Stewart goes all out with her own formal medieval accent, while Lily Collins somehow manages to speak as an American for the entirety of Mirror Mirror. Poor Armie Hammer is the only one in that movie who actually commits to sounding British.
Maybe I’m reading too much into this and the fact is simply that Julia Roberts cannot do a convincing accent to save her life. (After all, there’s a reason she played Americans in Notting Hill and Closer.) But Mirror Mirror does face the challenge of showing itself to be not just a period piece and not just a kids’ movie. Having Julia Roberts switch between stopping Snow White as the Evil Queen and snarking as herself is a pretty useful guidepost to managing your expectations for what turns out to be a pretty cute movie.