Film » Film Features

Peter Jackson's 'They Shall Not Grow Old' Shows the Grim Realities of WWI



There was perhaps no director better suited to making the new documentary They Shall Not Grow Old, a film composed of restored World War I footage from the Imperial War Museum's archives, than Peter Jackson (Lord of the Rings). An avid World War I collector, Jackson also has a personal connection to the Great War. His grandfather served in the war, and he dedicates the movie to the man. 

The film succeeds in creating an immersive experience for the viewer. Select one-night-only screenings took place last month and earlier this month, and the film will now open area-wide on Friday. Be sure to see it in 3-D to get the full effect.

The making of the movie was a monumental task. Jackson sifted through about 100 hours of film and about 600 hours of audio footage to piece together the film. In the short "making of" feature that follows the film, Jackson shows how some footage was so faded that the original images weren't at all discernible. After restoration, the images became crystal clear.

Though the movie lacks any sort of voice-over (interviews with the soldiers create the narrative), it doesn't suffer as a result. By proceeding in chronological order, Jackson takes us through the build-up to the Great War (many soldiers discuss volunteering to serve because they felt so committed to the cause) and clearly shows the atrocities that took place on the battlefield. Some of the gruesome footage depicts bloody soldiers who have been severely injured. Human bodies lie rotting in the fields, flies buzzing on the corpses. Soldiers march through soggy trenches and struggle to maintain any sort of hygiene. 

All hope isn't lost, however. As the war comes to an end, soldiers from both sides share food and supplies. The movie includes scenes that show the Allied forces feeding captured German soldiers. 

There's also something hopeful about the extended version of the cheerful tune "Mademoiselle from Armentières" that plays over the closing credits. Jackson actually recruited New Zealand-based native speakers in service to the U.K. government to sing the tune, and they do a commendable job of bringing this remarkable movie to its conclusion. — Jeff Niesel

We welcome readers to submit letters regarding articles and content in Cleveland Scene. Letters should be a minimum of 150 words, refer to content that has appeared on Cleveland Scene, and must include the writer's full name, address, and phone number for verification purposes. No attachments will be considered. Writers of letters selected for publication will be notified via email. Letters may be edited and shortened for space.

Email us at

Support Local Journalism.
Join the Cleveland Scene Press Club

Local journalism is information. Information is power. And we believe everyone deserves access to accurate independent coverage of their community and state. Our readers helped us continue this coverage in 2020, and we are so grateful for the support.

Help us keep this coverage going in 2021. Whether it's a one-time acknowledgement of this article or an ongoing membership pledge, your support goes to local-based reporting from our small but mighty team.

Join the Cleveland Scene Press Club for as little as $5 a month.