Interviews from survivors accompany actual footage of the First World War. The footage has been rendered in colour and audio has been added, including foley and dialogue.
The horrors of the trench are given brutal flesh. The moment the film transitions from grainy, dark black and white footage to the full panoramic view of the battlefield with shell impacts sounding in the distance and the dull murmur of soldiers marching to the front is sobering. It’s a visceral experience of a war everyone is taught about but perhaps few fully engage with.
There are many disturbing aspects to They Shall Not Grow Old, including real war violence and injuries but perhaps most disturbing is the insight into the mindset of the men who fought. Even more disturbing than the men who mourn or begrudge the senselessness of the conflict are those who talk of acceptance of the death that faces them. The matter of fact, the daily reality of dying is truly terrifying.
Unfortunately, the film is presented in 3D. This has the effect of robbing the footage of clarity and often of its authenticity. Elements can feel like overlays of each other, foreground removed from the background like cutout paper puppets. Smoke from shell impacts looks artificial. Jackson and his team have breathed incredible life into remarkable footage of the war, it’s a shame that 3D should rob the experience of some of its impact.
They Shall Not Grow Old is a hugely powerful testament to the terrors and awe of the first world war. It’s a moving tribute to its survivors and a frightening insight into their mindset. Just be sure to find a 2D screening.