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The Oxford Murders

Elijah Wood and John Hurt, set in Oxford in 1993

While beating through the bush for something to watch, I came across “The Oxford Murders,” on Hulu. The film was made in 2008. It’s set in Oxford in 1993. A mystery with Elijah Wood, John Hurt, and an Oxford setting? Of course I was going to watch that.

But it’s yet another example of the fringiness of my taste and why you should be skeptical of anything I like. I would have given “The Oxford Murders” at least a 95, but Rotten Tomatoes gave it a 17/33!

I read through some of the Rotten Tomatoes reviews. Apparently many people took the film seriously and thought that the film was trying to be smart. I didn’t see it that way at all. Rather, it was a parody, making fun of people who are smart or who think they’re smart. Much of the humor was based on that. I think that John Hurt also saw it as a parody, and that that would explain his over-the-top performance as an Oxford professor — always declaiming, and usually a bit too loud. Maybe those reviewers haven’t read Sherlock Holmes, as John Hurt clearly has? Elijah Wood was amazing.

I have an Oxford fetish, and this film didn’t disappoint. It’s all there — the pubs, the dining halls, the lecture halls, the library, the bicycles, the Oxford accents, the snark.

It’s a shame that it was only an hour and 50 minutes. I’d watch six seasons of this.


  1. Chenda wrote:

    It’s funny how many people don’t get parodies 🙂 I may have mentioned before David but the ITV adaptation of Brideshead Revisited (with Jeremy Irons) did a great job of recreating the atmosphere of 1920s Oxford.

    Wednesday, June 7, 2023 at 1:52 pm | Permalink
  2. daltoni wrote:

    Hi Chenda: Thank you… Speaking of Oxford, I have a question about accents for your ear for accents, which I assume is an English ear. If an English actor who is extremely good with accents was asked to do an Oxford accent, and then a royal accent, would those accents be different? And, if they are different, which to your English ear would sound more posh, the Oxford or the royal? Are there characteristics of each accent that lend themselves to exaggeration and parody which, if parodied, would cause an English audience to laugh?

    Wednesday, June 7, 2023 at 3:00 pm | Permalink
  3. daltoni wrote:

    Chenda: I’ve corrected the error, but my first draft said “English accent” when it should have said “Oxford accent.”

    Wednesday, June 7, 2023 at 3:13 pm | Permalink
  4. Chenda wrote:

    Hi David

    Yes they would be quite different. This sketch from the 1990s parodies the upper class, royal-sounding accent of ‘Tim-nice-but-dim’. The bookshop owner at the start is speaking with a middle class, Oxford/southern English accent.

    Accent tends to be a mixture of both regional and social background. So a working class accent from Oxford would in turn sound different from a middle or upper class accent.

    Wednesday, June 7, 2023 at 4:10 pm | Permalink
  5. daltoni wrote:

    Chenda: So complex! I doubt that an American ear like mine would ever be able to hear it all, but I’ll keep trying. As a American, though an American with a pretty good ear for accents, all I’d be able to say is that the royal accent sounds a touch provincial to me, whereas an Oxford accent sounds more quintessentially English. For example, when Elizabeth II said “television,” to me it sounds like “tilivision,” which sounds to me a touch provincial because of the vowel shift. Whereas, by comparison, when I listen to Christopher Tolkien, nothing about it sounds provincial to me; his vowels are straight up. Would the Oxford accent be considered a received accent? Or is it native at least to those who grew up with it?

    Wednesday, June 7, 2023 at 5:26 pm | Permalink
  6. Chenda wrote:

    It really is! An Oxford accent would certainly be considered received, and, rightly or wrongly, would probably be seen as the most standard or ‘correct’ form. Most middle class people today will speak something akin to received pronunciation, although will often have regional markers. In the north of England, for example, words like path or bath tend to be pronounced phonetically. Where’s in Oxford and the southern counties we tend to pronounce them parth or barth.

    Few people would speak with a royal-esq accent today, which I think was a much stronger or old fashioned received accent. Regional accents too have become much more mainstream in broadcast media in the last 30 years or so.

    From what I’ve observed, in Ireland (and I suspect the US too ?) accent is less obviously reflective of social background.

    Wednesday, June 7, 2023 at 6:52 pm | Permalink
  7. daltoni wrote:

    Americans do make social judgments based on accents, but I don’t think that there is as much complexity, or even as much judgment, as in Britain. The most stigmatized accent, I would say, is Southern Appalachian, in which I am fluent. People with that accent must learn to drop it if they are to make social and economic progress. Most of us code switch. In San Francisco people often told me that they could not detect a Southern accent. Whereas, here in the sticks, if I used a received accent I would be seen as a snob and an alien. Code-switching here also involves grammar as well as accent. In San Francisco, it would have been impossible to catch me in a grammatical error. But here I water down my grammar to match local standards. There are some Southern accents, rarer these days, that sound Southern but that aim at a higher social status. I might call that a “Virginia planter” accent. A friend of mine here who recently died at the age of 82 had that accent down. It’s the accent that Southern politicians affect. But I suspect it’s old-fashioned and that that hardly anyone learns to speak it (or affect it) anymore. I speak Southern Appalachian to my cat!

    Thursday, June 8, 2023 at 7:18 am | Permalink
  8. Chenda wrote:

    Very interesting David. Yes, you’ll receive no judgement from Lily 🙂

    Saturday, June 10, 2023 at 1:20 pm | Permalink
  9. Henry Sandigo wrote:

    I just read up on southern Appalachian. Very interesting. I recall when I was drafted back in 59’. I met a few men who spoke similar to what I read. I remember our drill sergeant yelling “i cant “hep” it if you’re “stoopid” something like that.

    Saturday, June 10, 2023 at 9:58 pm | Permalink
  10. daltoni wrote:

    Hi Henry: Yes, one certainly might hear “hep” for “help,”, though I wouldn’t say that’s always how it’s pronounced. I’ve heard one of my grandmothers say “holp.” There are variations within Southern Appalachian, and a native speaker can distinguish differences in levels of education and social circumstances.

    There are good examples in this video:

    At 2:40 in my video about a road trip to the real Mayberry, you can hear a more refined version, an example of how a schoolteacher might sound:

    Sunday, June 11, 2023 at 7:34 am | Permalink
  11. Henry Sandigo wrote:

    Thank you I certainly enjoyed those videos.

    I agree with one of the fellas about “if I were take a vacation, it be right here”

    Sunday, June 11, 2023 at 12:00 pm | Permalink

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