Posted Oct 16 2018

LFF 2018 Preview - They Shall Not Grow Old

Dir: Peter Jackson 

Starring Many, Many Soldiers

A lot has been made of the visual quality of Peter Jackson’s WWI documentary. Less has been said about the element that really makes it work – the audio. Jackson has taken footage collected over many years by the Imperial War Museum, and digitised it, 3-D’d it, colourised it and, using digital tech once more, taken away that herky-jerky quality of silent era film and made the whole look like it was shot on location around a week or so ago. And it’s hugely impressive and does exactly what the director wanted his film to do – it brings these young soldiers of the First World War back to life in living, breathing form. These young lads are re-presented to us as impossibly young men, off to face their future in the most uncertain of circumstances. Their faces, their smiles, their worried glances convey a huge amount of emotion in the way they are displayed here.

But more importantly than these remarkable visuals are the voices that accompany them. Using tapes the Imperial War Museum started recording from WWI veterans back in the 1960s, these striking images are fully brought to life by the voices of those that were there.

The movie takes a very simple structure – moving from those originally signing up (a frightening amount of them either lying about their age in doing so – or being encourage to lie about their age as they join the services, boys of 14 or 15 passing for 19), to their arrival in France (at which point the movie switches from black and white to newly colourised), to life in the trenches, to the horror of major battle and, finally, to the return home, those that did. And as powerful as the film is to look at, it is the reminiscences, these voices which in some way become one collective voice, that really powers Jackson’s extremely well-judged film.

They Shall Not Grow Old does a truly remarkable thing – it brings the dead back to life. And preserves them for all time. Everyone should see this.

They Shall Not Grow Old plays the LFF on 16 October

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