Why do the Characters Have a British Accent in A Gentleman in Moscow?

Image Credit: Ben Blackall/Paramount+ With Showtime

Showtime’s ‘A Gentleman in Moscow’ follows the story of Count Rostov, who is confined to a hotel for the rest of his life. He cannot step outside the door, and as years go by, he witnesses the ups and downs in his country through the hotel’s windows. Despite being in one place for many years, his life goes through many ups and downs. While the plot is too gripping to allow the audience to think about anything else, one might wonder why, when the story is set in Russia, the characters speak in a British accent.

The English Accent of the Actors was a Calculated Choice

While ‘A Gentleman in Moscow’ is set in Russia and is about Russian characters, it is penned by an American author, Amor Towles. In the same vein, the production of its adaptation is also American, which creates a language barrier for the creators of the show. Considering that the entire story takes place in Russia, with almost all characters being Russian, it would make sense for them to talk in Russian, but of course, English is better for a predominantly American audience, which is also the target audience for the show.

Image Credit: Ben Blackall/Paramount+ With Showtime

Once it was established that the show would be in English, it was important to choose the right accent for the characters. One would assume that the Russian characters would speak in a Russian accent, but that would actually be more absurd than them talking in English instead of Russian. It’s not that American productions shy away from using accents. Apple TV+’s ‘The New Look’ is set in France and is all about French characters, and the actors use French accents while in character. While this approach might work for some shows, a number of times, it is preferred just to drop the accent act altogether.

In HBO’s critically acclaimed ‘Chernobyl,’ the production was American, and the actors were mostly British. The story, like ‘A Gentleman in Moscow,’ had a Russian setting with Russian-speaking characters. However, the actors used British rather than Russian accents while in character. They countered the point of using Russian accents, highlighting the problem with the approach. If one were to go a proper way about it, the story would be entirely in Russian. But once the language has been changed, it doesn’t make any sense to keep the accent. It not only distracts from the plot but also places an unnecessary burden on the actors to focus on their accents when they could be devoting their attention to the emotions of their characters.

The creators of ‘A Gentleman in Moscow’ shared this sentiment. Scottish actor Ewan McGregor, who plays the lead character in the show, revealed that he chose to use an English accent for Count Rostov because it helped underline his connection to aristocracy without making him sound “like the Queen.” The rest of the cast (a number of whom are British) also echoed his opinion, asserting that it was better for them to be free when using the accents because if everyone were confined to using Russian accents, they would be too focused on getting it right, lest it sound like a caricature, which is more common than one would like to accept. Considering all this, we agree it works better with a British accent.

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