Easttown and Down

A Philadelphian picks apart Kate Winslet‘s accent in ‘Mare of Easttown’

It does me no great pleasure to admit that, when I am not toiling as canary in the Twitter coalmine for Book & Film Globe, I am the owner of a Philadelphia accent. And I have a lot of opinions about Kate Winslet’s in Mare of Easttown.

Indeed, I’m unfortunately extremely familiar with the area’s phonology, specifically in Delaware County, the Philadelphia suburb known for Tina Fey and Mare of Easttown, which is better known as “Delco.” (Though, to be specific, real-life Easttown is in neighboring Chester County.) I was born, raised and educated in Philadelphia English, and studied linguistics in college. I even had a stint working as a transcriber for the University of Pennsylvania’s Linguistics Department, using data from linguist William Labov’s Philadelphia Study, which is, you guessed it, a large-scale collection of dialect samples from the Philadelphia area. My investment in my Delco accent is so apparent that this week, seven people in my life, including the editor of this fine publication, sent me the SNL skit mocking Mare of Easttown’s diction just to make sure I saw it. I have never felt so seen and roasted at the same time.

Let me begin by saying that it’s just nice to see Mare of Easttown represent this area’s dialect in a non-derogatory way. Previously, my favorite reproduction was an absolutely hideous, but very good, caricature by actor James McAvoy on SNL. His accent is so gross and sounds like there are marbles in his mouth; his pronunciation of “tidy” is a running joke among my friends and me. David O. Russell set the film Silver Linings Playbook  in Philly and Delco, but the accents mostly just sound like they’re from New York. And don’t get me started on Rocky. So to see the diphthong vowels of my youth and that Ocean City crewneck sweatshirt in an HBO prestige drama brings tears to my eyes. 

Rightly so, Winslet’s dialect work is earning a lot of good press. And compared to not doing an accent at all, she does a good job. She nails the ugly diphthong o-sounds that are often my tell, pronouncing the o’s in “home,” “focus” and “phone,” like “heume,” “feucus,” and “pheune.” She knows that “water” sounds like “wooder,” and the locals pronounce “Schuylkill” River “skoo-kull.” But like her commitment to Wawa–which is sub-par at best; at least walk out with hash browns–the accent is an A for effort and C for execution. 

“Even her name is pronounced wrong!” a friend recently shouted at me in her own exquisite Philadelphia accent. “It’s Meeear,” calling to mind the sound a cat makes when you step on its tail and another diphthong vowel sound that Winslet avoids.

“She’s very, very good at it. Most of the time when I’m watching the show, I don’t remember that she’s not from Philly,” said Betsy Sneller, Ph.D., assistant professor of linguistics at Michigan State University and Philly accent expert, in this super interesting and very Delco local news article. “Then every once in a while she’ll do something that pulls me out of it.”

I think I’d be more enchanted by Winslet’s if everyone around her weren’t doing such incredible Delco and Philly accents. Many of the cops and teenagers surrounding the plot sound like neighbors I grew up with, and Mare’s friend Lori Ross (Julianne Nicholson) does an outstanding job. But the accent that fully threw me off the couch with joy was Evan Peters’. I have never cared about him in American Horror Story or X-Men, and I was skeptical when he joined the show as a hotshot county detective from all the way over in Upper Darby. (That’s a joke. These towns are relatively close to one another.)

When Peters first joins the show in episode two, he is clearly doing the accent. He gets the vowel sounds, the shortened -ing’s, and swallows his l’s just right. But it’s the next episode, where his character meets Winslet’s at a bar while very drunk, that sent me over the edge. Peters absolutely dialled up the accent. “Post game, with the boys,” he slurs. “We had our 15-year high school reunion over tonight at McGillian’s. Ridley High Raiders, Class of ‘05.” 

Honestly, give that line-read an Emmy. All the vowels are disgusting, all the l’s sound like he’s gagging, and most of the consonants are jumbled up beyond recognition. His performance rivals McAvoy’s on SNL. Speaking from my own experience, I grew up with one Philly parent and one from Maryland, so my accent isn’t the strongest. But if I’ve been drinking and spent hours among family or friends with strong accents, I would also probably sound like Peters.

And, obviously, it goes without saying that Mare of Easttown gets not only the area’s sounds right, but the vibe. I won’t say that my hometown is as grey and full of murders as Winslet’s Easttown, but there are a lot of similarities. Every Mary, Marianne, and Mary Catherine I know is a “Mare,” and I know two Erin McMenamins. The show demonstrates its dedication to local staples like Wawa and Cocco’s Pizza, as well as the weird insularity of the town, where everyone is related to one another and it makes arresting them for murder pretty awkward. 

But my favorite moment comes when Mare’s mother, played by Jean Smart, calls her daughter a “smacked ass” after messing up at work. That scold sent me back to hundreds of arguments from my youth, as it’s always been my mother’s choice insult. I’ve said it to other people from other parts of the country and they’ve always responded with confusion. I assumed it was just a term my mother used. Nope! Delco!

So, accents notwithstanding, the show nails Delco’s overall gruff vibe. In that local news article I mentioned earlier, everyone quoted sounds like a Mare. When prompted that Winslet called the accent the hardest one she’s ever done, life-long Delco resident Joe Manzi said, “I think it’s laughable that the Delco accent is the hardest she’s ever had to do, because there’s really no accent around here; maybe to her it is, because she’s English.” 

The article later cites, “Manzi said he hasn’t seen Mare of Easttown. He’s not alone in that camp. Only three people said they’d heard of the show, but none of them had seen it. None of them even knew who Winslet was.” To me, that’s just *chef’s kiss*.

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Katie Smith

Katie Smith is a Philadelphia-based writer. Find her on Instagram @saddy_yankee for cat pics.

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