Film review: They Shall Not Grow Old

A scene from Peter Jackson's film They Shall Not Grow Old. Picture: WINGNUT FILMS

A scene from Peter Jackson's film They Shall Not Grow Old. Picture: WINGNUT FILMS - Credit: Archant

They Shall Not Grow Old is currently showing in selected cinemas and also lined up for a TV showing over the Remembrance Day weekend. Read our review here.

Sunday, November 11 will mark the centenary of the end of the First World War. To commemorate this, Peter Jackson has produced a visually astounding and immersive documentary that holds a magnifying glass over ordinary soldiers’ experience of trench warfare.

Forgoing the talking head interviews typically found in documentaries of this sort, Jackson has instead, using highly sophisticated digital technology, restored, coloured and sharpened archive footage of the soldiers signing up, their life in training and in the trenches.

In addition to using diaries, letters and interviews from the Imperial War Museum and BBC archives for voiceover, he has employed lip-readers to interpret and actors to dub what the soldiers are saying. It is a breathtaking achievement in visual effects, sound design, editing and directing and the effect is nothing short of staggering.

The details depicted on screen and by the veterans’ voiceover are deeply unsettling. The nightmarish conditions of the trenches include trench foot, the rats, the lice, the horrific injuries, the monotony of waiting for battle, the soldiers detached acceptance of this devastation and, in some cases, their disappointment at the end of the war.

All capture what was life and, so often, death, on the Western Front in a way few films have. In many ways it would make a strong companion piece to Saul Dibb’s equally affecting Journey’s End (2018).

Time only will tell how influential Jackson’s film is. Nevertheless, this is a stunning, powerful and impassioned document of the horror and cost of war.

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