Colourised WWI Footage Offers Unique Perspective On Imperial War

‘They Shall Not Grow Old’, directed and produced by Peter Jackson, brings footage from the frontlines of World War One into the Twenty First Century, through adding colour and audio to the archaic film.

Jackson trawled through hours of footage from the Imperial War Museum (IWM), before directing the painstaking process of bringing it into the twenty first century, going to such great lengths as hiring lip-readers.

The result is a moving film which successfully offers a more relatable view of the men who gave their lives for their country, 100 years ago.

In a Q&A after the film, Jackson said the film was “important if we want to think of these people as human beings, the restoration is a humanisation”.

they-shall-not-grow-old

The film, commissioned by commemorative art programme 14-18 NOW, offers an insight into the minds of those who fought on the frontlines for the Allied forces.

Beginning with the moment Britain declares war on Germany, the story is carried along by the voices of more than 20 soldiers whose interviews were found within the IWM’s archives.

The first 10 or so minutes of the film are in black and white, which caused questions within the audience of when the film’s main feature of colourised war footage would begin.

But once the story made it to the frontlines, we were treated to an array of different colour scenes. The continual zooming in on faces while the interviewees spoke, gave the men from 100 years ago an identity like I have not seen before. It is so rare to see footage from that long ago of an ordinary person describing their thoughts, and most of these people where ordinary, especially before they went to war.

The audio used is perhaps better than the often awkward video, and as the veterans describe each different atmosphere they faced during war, the audio gradually becomes more prominent until we’re just left with the terrifying sound of mortar shells crashing all around, or injured men shrieking in pain.

they-shall-not-grow-old (1)“The Bavarians were part British”, one former soldier says during the film. Jackson ensures sufficient time in the film is offered to addressing the Axis who fought in the war. The colourised footage shows grey uniforms mingling within the sea of khaki following one particularly bloody encounter on the battlefield. Soldiers reminisce on their encounters with the enemy, with all coming to the same realisation.

German soldiers fighting in WWI were for the most part just the same as the British infantry. They were young men with no real feelings of malice towards Britain. They were simply doing the job they were told to.

Soldiers recall agreeing with German prisoners of war that there was no real point to the fighting. The actions of the most powerful people from the time, ultimately led to the death of millions of men, who did not have a reason to put their lives at such great risk.

The film ends with the unfortunate reality of the mental effects that war can have on a person. The veterans describe how they could not get work, and that civilians could never truly understand what it was like to be part of such a catastrophic event. A somber final scene which highlights the importance of remembering those who served in the army, and reminds us to ensure those now enlisted get all the support they deserve.

While there is of course no close-up footage of the gruesome battles of WWI taking place, perhaps this film can make some progress in bettering our understanding of the reality of war, and how people just like those around us now lived through the horrors of the Imperial War.

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