Leading article: An accent on Englishness

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The sight yesterday of Renee Zellweger unveiling a statue of Beatrix Potter, the oh-so English writer whose life she is now playing in a film, was enough to fill the heart of English patriots with melancholy St George's Day thoughts. It seems most unfair that foreign actresses - for it is mainly women we are talking about - are so good at playing "our" women on screen. Which icons from our history will they next pluck and mould - Florence Nightingale? Queen Victoria? Nell Gwynn?

The fashion for imitating us began long ago. Bette Davis made a very passable Elizabeth I in the classic Elizabeth and Essex - and that was in the 1940s. But as Davis never sounded very American to begin with, having established an accent and an identity that was peculiarly her own, possibly she did not count.

Much more galling is the wave of foreign stars who seem to have got our accents down to a creepily accurate tee. Who gave Nicole Kidman - a right Sheila offstage - the talent to do a perfect upper-class toff as Virginia Woolf in The Hours. Then there's Gwyneth Paltrow, who many of the younger generation probably think was Elizabeth I. And then there's Zellweger herself. In real life, she's as yank as yank can be, but, as Bridget Jones, she became an all-too-realistic girl from the Home Counties.

Now that our "standard" accents are so easy to mimic, there's only one thing for it. We must abandon them and move to one of the more complicated variants of Mockney or Bangladeshi-English - accents that few can yet imitate. Then, if only for a while, we can remain one step ahead in this dastardly game.

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