Tongue-lashing for Mel Gibson over Hawick accent

A Hollywood legend’s portrayal of a pioneering Borderer in a new blockbuster movie is earning him a tongue-lashing.

Mel Gibson during filming for the Professor and the Madman.
Mel Gibson during filming for the Professor and the Madman.

The official trailer for The Professor and the Madman, starring Mel Gibson as Denholm-born teacher and lexicographer James Murray, is now available to watch on YouTube, but it’s leaving some viewers unimpressed.

Murray, born in 1837, was a teacher at Hawick Grammar School, a founder member of Hawick Archaeological Society and a central figure in creating the Oxford English Dictionary.

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Legal wrangles have led to the release of the £20m film, shot in late 2016 and early 2017, being delayed, and a date has yet to be set for it coming out.

Mel Gibson as William Wallace in the 1995 film Braveheart

However, the release of the trailer has sparked criticism of US-born and Australian-raised Gibson’s Scottish accent.

That’s something Mad Max star Gibson will be used to as his turn as Renfrewshire knight William Wallace, named as guardian of Scotland at a ceremony in Selkirk in 1297, in 1995’s Braveheart attracted similar comments.

However, it was hoped his portrayal of Murray would be more convincing, particularly as his voice coach took advice from Hawick historian Ian Landles.

Sadly, early reaction online has been scathing.

Mel Gibson and partner Rosalind Ross at a film premiere in January. (Photo by Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images)

Some social media users commenting on the trailerinsist the 63-year-old’s Scots accent has not improved over the last two decades, however.

Taijess Basnaw posted: “Uh oh, Mel Gibson has the Braveheart accent back.”

Sam Armstrong added: “Oh my god, those accents are terrible. Nobody in Scotland talks like that.”

And Sandra Elliot wrote: “Not Mel Gibson! David Tennant or Dougray Scott maybe. At least they have authentic Scottish accents.”

Mr Landles is unconvinced too.

He was sent extracts from the movie script in email form by Gibson’s voice coachthen read them back over the phone and had his voice recorded to help the actor capture the Borders twang.

However, after viewing the trailer, Mr Landles described Gibson’s attempt at a Borders accent as “not too convincing”.

He added: “It may pass as a Scottish accent but not particularly a Borderer. It’s okay, I suppose, but I think it could have been better.

“I was contacted by the voice coach about two or three years ago and he sent me sections of the script which I read back to him over the phone.

“I didn’t get a hefty fee for the work from Hollywood, I can say that.”

Amidst that criticism, one person impressed by Gibson’s accent is Simon Winchester, author of the 1998 book the film is based on, The Surgeon of Crowthorne.

He said: “It’s been so long since I saw Braveheart.

“I think it was the action and not the accent that gripped me in that film, but I think Scots will approve of Gibson’s Scottish accent.”

Murray left the Borders in 1864 for London and died in Oxfordshire in 1915 at the age of 78.

The forthcoming film also stars Natalie Dormer, Eddie Marsan, Jennifer Ehle, Ioan Gruffudd, Stephen Dillane and Steve Coogan.

It revolves around Murray discovering that a contributor to his dictionary, William Minor, played by Sean Penn, was a convicted killer and a patient at Broadmoor criminal lunatic asylum.

The official trailer for it can be seen at

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