Today I have an extra special post for you. As we are now in the lead-up to the end of the centenary of the First World War, the commemorative events are in full swing and there are some amazing ones to behold. Today’s post is about one in particular, a brand new documentary film called ‘They Shall Not Grow Old’.
For the first time in months, I went to the cinema last night. However, I didn’t go to the cinema to see just any film, I went to watch the live broadcasting of director Peter Jacksons newest cinematic masterpiece ‘They Shall Not Grow Old’. Commissioned by the Imperial War Museum, who gave Jackson access to their wealth of archival footage taken from the First World War, Jackson and his team took the task of painstakingly restoring and colourising the footage over the last four years to bring the experiences of British soldiers in WW1 to a new generation.
Chronologically documenting the War, Jackson’s film commenced with footage showing the build-up to the war with Army conscription and training, alongside hearing first-hand the experiences of excitement, fear and ignorance from the soldiers who experienced it for themselves. Expertly integrating oral histories with cinematic footage, They Shall Not Grow Old was an emotional, raw and often humorous film that reminds its viewers of the human experiences of warfare that perhaps being shown black and white footage has not previously done. The magical moment when the footage turns from black and white to colour was breath-taking, it was almost like travelling in time yourself, when suddenly a past so hidden and unrelatable through its monochrome footage and pictures became an almost living-breathing world with sound effects, voices and faces that will stay with viewers for a long time.
If I had to choose my favourite part of this documentary, it would be its honesty. The footage does not shy away from or gloss over the sheer brutality and devastation that the War inflicted on so many lives, as you found yourself looking at scenes of mass slaughter, decay and also the vulnerability of humanity that is often overlooked or glorified in so many historical films on the period. I admired the was Jackson integrated the German soldier’s experience of war, as they were not portrayed to be the villainous bloodthirsty enemies of British propaganda, but instead, we could see for ourselves that they too were frightened young men, who willingly lent a hand to carrying and caring for our wounded soldiers as if they were their own.
As Peter Jackson himself said in a Q&A session after the screening, this film only focuses on the Male British soldier’s experience of WW1 and we must, therefore, be careful not to base our understandings of the war through this perspective alone. However, I do believe it to be a remarkable example of how we should continue to commemorate the war for years to come after the 100-year centenary ends on November 11th 2018. I hope the film educates a new generation of people, and that the legacy of this film will inspire a new generation of filmmakers to continue to use visual and oral recordings to keep such important histories alive.
They Shall Not Grow Old will be shown on BBC One on the 11th November 2018. More details to come soon.