They Shall Not Grow Old

They Shall Not Grow Old 2018

Directed by Peter Jackson

One of the things about getting old is remembering when I was small.

I can recall old men who served in WWI, marching in ever dwindling numbers on Anzac Day and at services on Remembrance Day. Not one of them ever talked about the Great War and as I’ve grown older, and particularly after experiencing this film, I can certainly see why.

Directed and produced by Peter Jackson, this documentary opens with the usual WWI film footage – black and white, jerkily shot, uneven frame rates. About 10 minutes in, it changes to a smooth, full colour film, complete with audio and the effect is nothing short of jaw-dropping.

Jackson had access to the British War Museum’s archives, which included footage from various sources and audio interviews after the war with surviving servicemen. Rather than make the usual war documentary, Jackson and his brilliant team took the footage, shot with hand-cranked cameras and therefore of varying speeds, and smoothed it out with a precision that is simply staggering. The adjusted footage was colourised and then, perhaps most astonishing of all, a team of lip-readers translated what the men were saying to each other and the camera. Voice actors with appropriate regional accents to the regiments depicted gave their images life again. Interspersed with archive audio interviews with survivors, it lends even more gravitas to the camaraderie between the men and the sheer horror of what they experienced. The sound design too is magnificent and relentless, with nearly constant gunfire and shelling but probably only a taste of what these men must have experienced.

The results are an incredibly moving film that really should be mandatory viewing for all adults and a technical triumph for Peter Jackson and his team. It’s caused me to think that Jackson should perhaps make more documentaries than narrative films!

While I cannot recommend this work enough, it isn’t for the faint-hearted. Although I was well prepared, I still found some of the scenes difficult and was moved to tears more than once. However, this film in no way ever glorifies war. Rather, it humanises this brutal conflict in ways that I would not have thought possible. I saw this astonishing documentary on Remembrance Day (Armistice Day in other countries), the 100th anniversary of the end of WWI and I’m very grateful to have seen it in a decent sized cinema with a good sound system – kudos to my local, the State Cinema. To say I was moved is a complete understatement, it was a far more profound experience.

Undoubtedly one of the best films I’ve seen this year.

 

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