Monday May 27, 2019
I recently saw the documentary They Shall Not Grow Old, an account by English soldiers of their experiences in the Great War of 1914-1918. Culled from hundreds of hours of colorized actual wartime footage, it's a beautiful and heart wrenching film. It's also a superb antiwar film, simply through its graphic and accurate depiction of mass death and casualties across blood-soaked European battlefields.
Refreshingly, the film relies solely on audio transcripts from about 200 English soldiers who fought in World War I. There is no script, and no narration. The viewer simply hears the gravelly, aged voices of the soldiers themselves, never identified by name or rank. They are anonymous, but judging by the towns from which they hailed and the farm or factory jobs they left, most were enlisted men.
Though commissioned by the BBC, producer Sir Peter Robert Jackson has no political axe to grind. This is a story of men, of human beings and their oftentimes horrific experiences in perhaps the savagest of modern wars. It has little to say about particular battles, commanding officers, politicians, or any of the events surrounding the war. It stands apart from most war documentaries precisely because Jackson strenuously avoids any filter between the soldiers' recollections and the viewer.