They Shall Not Grow Old – Film Review by Frank L.
Directed by Peter Jackson
The first line of the fourth stanza of Laurence Binyon’s poem ‘For the Fallen’ is an apt title for this documentary film about the outbreak of the First World War and its subsequent execution. Because that is exactly what Jackson has achieved in this remarkable documentary. For each of the soldiers and officers who are seen in the original footage have not grown old. Jackson has kept them alive as they were 100 years ago.
Jackson has managed to achieve this feat by combining original film footage with verbal recordings from the nineteen fifties and sixties of veterans who had survived the conflict. The original footage has been restored and even in some instances had colour (mostly mud brown) added. As the exhaustive lengthy credits attest this was a labour of love by Jackson and his varied team of highly skilled technicians.
The film starts with the outbreak of the war with all its attendant recruiting posters exuding confidence and enthusiasm coupled with the vocal memories of the survivors from those recordings made fifty years ago. The two combined together make for an engrossing start as with the benefit of hindsight, we now know how misplaced the confidence and the enthusiasm was. As the many horrors of the battle fields take their toll the voices in the recordings also take on a different tone as they explain the literal lousy conditions in which the soldiers lived at the front. To viewers a hundred years later the conditions under which they lived and fought seem to be inhumane.
But there are other things which shock. While the prevalence of smoking does not come as a surprise, the appalling state of the teeth of so many soldiers and officers is to modern eyes horrific to see. As is also what the voice recordings explain was the almost non existence of any change of clothes. Clean clothes do not get a mention as there were none.
The strength of the documentary is that it concentrates on the grim every day life of the men in the trenches. The battle field itself is primarily a background to these anecdotes and facts of trying to remain alive in conditions which death and disease were ever present not just from gunfire but from mud, rats, hunger, rotting carcases and much else beside. The ability of these men to survive in such conditions was heroic.
Jackson has done a service to all humanity in creating this thoughtful documentary from the view point of those who experienced it at the front in all its horrors. As a result this documentary is a powerful statement to ensure that “They shall not grow old”.