They Shall Not Grow Old (2018)

They Shall Not Grow Old, Peter Jackson’s homage to his grandfather is a technically brilliant remastering, colouring and voicing of First World War footage into 3D to show the horror and futility of war for its ordinary foot soldiers.

Lest We Forget

by Alexa Dalby

They Shall Not Grow Old

CAUTION: Here be spoilers

All the technical sophistication of his The Lord of the Rings oeuvre has gone into Peter Jackson’s remastering of original footage to give it a contemporary impact. It recognises and celebrates the lives and deaths of the many ordinary soldiers – many of them so incredibly young – who served and did what they felt was their duty.

Using snippets of voices from the Imperial War Museum archives, Jackson tells the story from recruitment and training – dropping in the interesting fact that the boys, volunteers and conscripts, were from such poor backgrounds that during their six-week training they put on an average of a stone in weight and an inch in height.

Life in the trenches is depicted in all its hardship and goriness. Archive black and white film has been painstakingly computerised into contemporary-looking colour, slowed down to normal movements. Lip readers were employed to decipher what the men are saying and it’s recreated by actors in voiceover. Their very ordinariness and the pluck of popular songs they sing give an immediacy and poignancy to the images on screen.

Hand to hand battle and its aftermath are shown in gruesome colour with comments from men who survived, now grown old. We see the camerarderie between British and German soldiers, their desire for the war just to be over and what awaited them when they returned home – basically nothing more than being issued with a new suit.

It’s a grim film, how could it not be, put together with obvious love and respect, and timely too for the centenary of the Armistice in November 2018.

They Shall Not Grow Old had its world premiere at the BFI London Film Festival and is released on 9 November 2018 in the UK.

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