Made in 2018 but not receiving an American release until February of 2019, Peter Jackson’s They Shall Not Grow Old is one of the very few major films telling the story of trench warfare in World War I. They simply do not make films about World War I anymore. It is becoming the forgotten war but thankfully, Peter Jackson utilizes modern technology to bring the deteriorating footage of World War I not only to life but in color.
The film offers no stars narrating. This is not a flashy film and that is probably why it had such a limited release in the United States. But, for anyone who wants to learn about history, They Shall Not Grow Old is a powerful and somber film told by the men who lived it a hundred years ago. I don’t know how many of these voices you hear in the film are still alive but they tell their stories from boot camp to the front lines in the trenches until they returned home.
You never see any of the faces of those narrating this film. You don’t need to, really. Their words are potent but not bitter. To the brave souls who fought, it was their duty and most of them joined the fighting without hesitation or negativity which was surprising to me. To put your life on hold and endure what they had to endure is quite amazing. They held no caustic anger for the war or even towards the enemy which was also quite revealing.
The film is told from the British point of view and all of the voices you hear are from as many British soldiers as Jackson could track down. The footage that he has restored, the detail of stories behind these tough and resilient soldiers of England and the colorization of the old, crumbling footage is simply jaw dropping. He was even able to match the people in the footage to what happened to them during the war, most of the time with horrific results, sadly.
They Shall Not Grow Old is a bleak but earnest film about what was called “The Great War: The War to End All Wars”. It does not have any Saving Private Ryan heroes that we hear about today. These men are mostly all gone now but, their stories deserve to be heard. Peter Jackson is the man who lets them tell their stories and the horrendous conditions in the trenches. It is not a long documentary with a run time of only ninety-nine minutes but it is perfectly cut together and the run time is more than adequate. They Shall Not Grow Old is a must see for anyone who loves history. It is also an exercise in the perfection of film making.
They Shall Not Grow Old – ****3/4 out of 5
They Shall Not Grow Old – Rated R for some language and battle footage with some graphic violence
They Shall Not Grow Old – Run time is 99 minutes
They Shall Not Grow Old is now available on DVD, On Demand and subscription services. Check your local listings for pricing and availability.