By now, you’ve probably seen the first episode of the HBO limited series Mare of Easttown, starring Kate Winslet—she plays a former basketball star turned detective in her hometown of Delaware County, Pennsylvania, who is somewhat reluctantly pulled into a mysterious case involving a local. You’ve probably also heard some Internet chatter surrounding whether Winslet, who is English, nailed the accent her Philly-region character should have.
Mare of Easttown was created by Brad Ingelsby, a Philadelphia native; ostensibly, he (and a dialect coach) worked with Winslet to make sure her accent was on point. I am no linguist, so I cannot back up my understanding of the particulars of the Delaware County accent, but I did grow up in nearby Montgomery County, Pennsylvania—and if you spend enough time in and around Wawa then you, too, could consider yourself an expert on what the Delco accent should sound like.
The first thing to know is that Delaware County’s accent—characterized by its rounded vowels and shortened long-e and long-a sounds, perhaps most notably in the pronunciation of the word “water” as “wooder”—is highly specific to the Philadelphia area. Winslet herself has confirmed that it was “up there with the hardest accents I’ve ever done, in the top three, for sure.”
But what about her other on-screen accents? The actress, who hails from Reading, England, has attempted various global intonations over the course of her career. How else has she fared? Here, a ranking of her best efforts.
Mare of Easttown is not the first time Winslet has made an on-screen attempt at an American accent, specifically one that is supposed to be from Philly. Her character in Titanic, Rose DeWitt Bukater, is actually from Philadelphia as well. Winslet, however, recently told USA Today that she thought the American accent she tried in Titanic was not good. And if you watch the film, it does not exactly sound much like a Philadelphia accent at all. She does, however, concede to the fact that by the time she starred in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, and had multiple chances to redeem herself, her American accent had improved. Still, if we had to rank this one, it would be on the lower end, since her British lilt tends to peek through.
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
In retrospect, Clementine, the character Winslet plays in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, does not have a clear enough backstory telling us where exactly in the United States she’s supposed to come from. But Winslet is right, her American accent did get a lot better by 2004.
Winslet won a Best Actress Oscar in 2009 for her role as a guard at a Nazi concentration camp who, years prior, had a sexual relationship with the story’s 15-year-old protagonist. The actress did work hard to nail the German accent, though she has said in an interview that it was “complicated” to get it “perfect.” The story goes that in order to get it right, Winslet stayed in character by speaking with a German accent at home, much to the befuddlement of her children. But not everyone praised the accents in the film—some criticized the director for making the film in English rather than sticking with a German script.
We’re not exactly sure what is going on with this accent, but to Winslet’s credit, Joanna Hoffman (the real-life person and original Apple Computer Macintosh team member upon whom the role was based) was born in Poland to an Armenian mother and Polish father, and lived in Soviet Armenia for some time, meaning there’s a bit of a Russian edge to her accent as well. Then she moved to Buffalo, New York, as a teenager. So for Winslet to combine three distinct accents into one for this role in Steve Jobs could not have been an easy feat. Winslet even said so herself—next to Mare, this was the hardest accent she’s ever attempted on screen.
Mare of Easttown
Listen, the Philadelphia accent is a tough one to imitate, and the bar is high (just ask Toni Collette, an under-appreciated maestra of cinematic accent work, particularly that of the Philadelphian variety). Winslet does have the Delco “wooder” down, and her cast mate, Julianne Nicholson, is an unsung hero in this department, too. Winslet and the cast (which includes Evan Peters and Jean Smart) give a fair shot at many rounded “o” sounds, and even a Wawa mention in the first episode. And for that, we have to give credit where it’s due.