A Boy Called Christmas

Describing and Subtitling 'A Boy Called Christmas'

My first thought when I watched A Boy Called Christmas was that audio describing it would be a big challenge. It’s a fast-paced movie with lots of visual storytelling that would need to be translated into words for our AD users. The design is rich and intricately detailed, bringing the story to life in glorious, colourful scenes. Narration by Maggie Smith’s character, Aunt Ruth, takes the viewer into a magical world and I wanted to make sure that the description really did justice to the way that world appears on screen.

While describing the action is always my priority, it also felt important to flesh out the fantastical settings such as Elfhelm (the Elf village), which is full of colourful houses, Windmills and giant cogs. The costumes and characters are quite dazzling too; a resplendent regency-style King (played by Jim Broadbent) presides over a grand palace, and my personal favourite; the Truth Pixie, is a little girl with silvery wings whose insatiable urge to tell the whole truth threatens to land her in trouble.

A Boy Called Christmas is a family movie, which means that the audio description needs to cater for audiences of different ages, too. I’ve tried to strike a balance between evocative or poetic language that adults might enjoy, and the more straightforward language that would be needed by younger children. For example, when describing the scenery, I decided against the shorthand of ‘an alpine landscape’ in favour of describing the mountains, snow and pine trees. At other times I opted for ‘a cluster of buildings’ rather than ‘a hamlet’ and ‘a doll’ instead of ‘a figurine.’

This type of movie also demands an engaging delivery. The dialogue has a real youthful innocence about it, and I wanted the descriptive soundtrack to complement this. It’s a film full of magic and wonder, and some of the AD will be laid over dramatic music that can really heighten the feeling of enchantment. So when voicing the description for these moments, I really had to imagine I was there, experiencing the magic! I hope that the AD will help a wider audience of both younger and older viewers to enter into that world and experience it too.

By Jenni Elbourne, Audio describer

When you subtitle a movie or Tv programme, naturally you watch it very closely, so it’s a bonus if it’s a show you enjoy. For me, A Boy Called Christmas was a pleasure from the moment Maggie Smith got off a London bus grumpily harrumphing to herself. It’s a beautiful, bittersweet, heart-warming movie – it made me feel quite Christmassy.

The speed at which you can read something is always slower than the speed at which you can hear the same words, especially for younger viewers. So for a family movie like A Boy Called Christmas I aimed for a slightly slower reading speed than usual, and left the subtitles on screen longer, to give children a chance to keep up. Fortunately, there weren’t many occasions that this meant changing the dialogue, because we prefer to keep it the same as far as we possibly can.

The young audience also affects your choice of language for the sound effects. For example, where I would usually have written (SHE STIFLES A CHUCKLE) I changed it to (SHE HOLDS BACK A CHUCKLE) so that all reading levels could understand it. The language can evoke the fairy-tale setting, too, such as writing (SHE CACKLES), witch-style, when a mean old woman laughs.

Christmas is a time when multiple generations sit down to watch TV together, so it’s important that everyone can share in the experience equally. Including subtitles means that A Boy Called Christmas is accessible not only to people who have difficulties with hearing or language processing, and those who simply need the extra input in a busy, noisy home at Christmas. I’m glad to have played a very small part in helping families have an enjoyable Christmas together.

By Sam Hills, Subtitler