They Shall Not Grow Old is the history making film released to mark the 100th anniversary of the end of the First World War. Award winning film director Peter Jackson was tasked way back in 2014 by the Imperial War Museum to create a film to mark the 100th anniversary of the armistice. Four years later and I was sat in a cinema, waiting with anticipation, to watch They Shall Not Grow Old.
The way the story has been told
Over the years, countless directors have created films about the first world war. Most notably for me would have to be War Horse. Many films have depicted battles fought and weaponry used, but not about the lives of those men involved.
In schools today, children are taught only a small chunk about the first world war. You learn about trench life and about some of the soldiers who fought during that time. Yet in reality, its difficult to understand and relate to such events. Fuzzy black and white photographs, dark film clips or reading a small extract will never give a true understanding.
Creating the film
Sadly of course, as time has gone on, veterans have passed away and we can no longer ask them questions. All we can do is piece together archive footage and past interviews to get a better understanding. This is exactly how Peter and his team created They Shall Not Grow Old.
Using original footage, the team added colour and sound to bring those men to life. They watched over 100 hours of archive footage, before selecting which bits to work with. Piecing it all together in chronological order, the story of the First World War can be told from recruitment to armistice. The initial concept was to be a short documentary, but will modern technology and so much amazing footage, it soon turned into a feature-length film.
The process was a lengthy one, having to restore each black and white clip, many of which had faded over time. Something I hadn’t thought about was that the clips had to be sped up and sharpened to make them to today’s standard. This stopped the clips from looking disjointed like some of the old Charlie Chaplin films do. It wasn’t until the clips were clear enough to be used that colour was added.
Previous interviews with veterans were used as voiceovers to narrate the story. As well as this, lip readers were brought in to establish what was said in a particular clip. It was then re-recorded and added to the clip.
They Shall Not Grow Old – My thoughts
My friend Cris mentioned that our local cinema was doing a one off viewing, followed by a Q&A with Peter. I knew I would find it interesting to watch and also knew I would be able to gain more knowledge too. I’ve run A Wartime Life, a history blog based on The First World War, since 2014. Through this film, I knew that I’d be able to create even better content. We both agreed that we should go and I’m so glad we did.
The result of Peter and his team’s hard work is outstanding and something not to be missed. The film started off in black and white, just like any other archive footage I’d seen from the time. Veterans narrated the start of the story, whilst at the same time, there was a distinctive sound of somebody whistling in the background. It’s a sound I still recognise today. The voiceovers were so crisp and clear, that it honestly felt like I was in a room with them telling me their story.
All of a sudden, the colour was added and it was all brought to life. The contrast between the two was unbelievable. Suddenly, I was seeing real people. Young men, some of them still children, in uniform, carrying weapons, going over the top. All of the things that we thankfully don’t have to go through today. The surroundings also came to life and you could really see what the conditions were like.
A Lasting Legacy
Peter and his team were able to capture and portray something that I have never seen before in First World War footage and that was the camaraderie between the soldiers. The film not only brought their faces to life, but it also added their personalities too. Whilst they looked exhausted, you could still make out the joker from the serious one and even the shy one!
When I got home, I read the news that They Shall Grow Not Old has been a sell out and that more dates are soon to be added. I would highly recommend, if you get the chance,
to go and see this amazing film for yourself. Even if you are not necessarily into the First World War, the message behind this film really makes you think. Not just about the past, but about the future too and what we can do as a nation, to prevent similar bloodshed in the future.
Overall, an amazing film which I can’t wait to watch again. I’d also like to think that more films and documentaries will now be able to show restored clips in colour to bring other historic events to life and that’s all down to Peter Jackson’s vision and his teams hard work.