WHAT TO SEE: In the cause of the free
They Shall Not Grow Old
Peter Jackson (director, co-producer)
Runtime: 99 min.
Throughout history, courageous soldiers have taken up arms on frontlines in the name of freedom. Some have given all.
Peter Jackson, who directed The Lord of the Rings, created the 2018 documentary film They Shall Not Grow Old to commemorate the centennial of the armistice that ended the Great War on November 11, 1918. While this critically acclaimed work reflects British soldiers’ perspectives of that conflict, their experiences would surely be familiar to millions of Americans who fought alongside them on battlegrounds of Europe.
This compelling film, in limited screenings since December ahead of a broader theatrical and DVD/Blu-ray release in 2019, uses archival footage to tell its story. The documentary consists entirely of film clips culled from Imperial War Museum archives — digitally enhanced through colorization, speed adjustment, and synchronized sound effects — and layered with BBC recorded audio recollections of dozens of veterans who fought in the war.
The film takes us from enlistment to boot camp to the war’s grim battlefields. Often the soldiers, fascinated by the novelty of a hand cranked movie camera, stare hauntingly into the lens. Because they remain nameless faces, they represent every youth, shopkeeper, millworker, or farmer who answered the call to serve.
They Shall Not Grow Old — title taken from Laurence Binyon’s 1914 poem “For the Fallen” — is not easy viewing. There are frequent graphic images of wounded or shell-shocked men and rotting corpses. Yet there are heartwarming touches, too, in Allied-soldier camaraderie and in their cordial treatment of German prisoners. In final postwar sequences, the veterans’ voices reflect on what soldiers of every war know: that only those who suffered through its horrors can truly understand.
While it sparks contemplation of the tragic realities of battle, it instills respect and admiration for those altruistic young soldiers who were willing to sacrifice life and limb to engage in the “war to end all wars.”
GERALD KORSON is a Legatus magazine staff writer