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If you're going to make a movie about speech, you'd better get the sound just right â€“ and, if it's a period drama, it needs to sound right for its time, too. Anything slightly off mark and the whole thing fails to convince.
It helps if you have a director who appreciates the importance of sound in recreating historical settings, and Tom Hooper, having worked on TV dramas such as Elizabeth I and Longford, certainly fits that bill. And then you need not only the right sound crew but an obsessive attention to detail and the right tools for the job to carry it off. Which, without question, Hooper and his team, led by Lee Walpole (co-owner of London's Boom Post) as supervising sound editor, along with production mixer John Midgley and re-recording mixers Paul Hamblin and Martin Jensen, have done with the soundtrack for The King's Speech.
"Authenticity was the name of the game,' said Walpole in an interview with mixonline. "Tom is a very sound-focused director and he wanted everything to sound as realistic as possible to really take you back to that time and to those places.' That meant not only going back and listening to the original pre-WWII recordings which form major plot points, but going the extra mile to recreate them absolutely faithfully â€“ even down to getting hold of the specially built microphones that had been used by George V, George VI and the Queen Mother.
Those microphones â€“ "made to order for their speeches, beautiful silver crafted microphones [that] create a gentle veil to the sound, very moving, like a distant patina,' says Alexandre Desplat, who wrote the score for The King's Speech â€“ had been in storage at EMI for around 70 years. Peter Cobbin, chief recording engineer for the scoring sessions (recorded, mixed and mastered at Abbey Road on the Neve 88RS), retrieved them from the archives, initially for use on Desplat's original music. They were then used to lend a period feel to the re-recording of two Beethoven symphonic excerpts that underpin pivotal scenes. And then for dialogue.
"We also took all the dialogue that was put through radios in the film and re-recorded it through those microphones,' Walpole told mixonline. "It gives an authentic sound you simply can't achieve with a digital plugin or speaker phone, or whatever people choose to use nowadays to simulate that old radio sound.' And having created that authenticity, it was vital that nothing was lost â€“ or worse still, changed â€“ in the final mix. Walpole was already on the safest of safe ground there: Boom Post is home to an AMS Neve DFC.
The awards have already started pouring in. Seven nominations (including Best Score) for the Golden Globes, People's Choice Award at the Toronto International Film Festival, five wins and three nominations at the British Independent Film Awards â€“ and the film is heavily tipped to feature heavily in the 2011 Academy Awards. Evidently the critics are convinced (the movie gets a 96% rating on the Rotten Tomatoes review aggregation site), and along with a fine script, a compelling subject and superlative acting, that's down to the right sound crew using the right tools to get the soundtrack just right.