They Shall Not Grow Old


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To mark the cen­te­nary of the end of World War One, di­rec­tor Peter Jack­son brings to life film of sol­diers at the front.

NEW MIL­I­TARY HIS­TORY They Shall Not grow Old

Sun­day, BBC2 HD, 9.30pm

EV­ERY NOVEM­BER WE re­mem­ber the sol­diers who fought in the trenches of World War One. But how much do we re­ally know about what life was like on the Western Front?

In a film to mark a cen­tury since the end of the con­flict, The Lord of the Rings di­rec­tor Peter Jack­son has painstak­ingly re­stored hours of ar­chive footage, and says he thinks the re­sults will raise a few eye­brows.

‘Nowa­days we look at these guys with a lot of pity,’ says Jack­son. ‘We thought the war de­stroyed their lives, but most of them didn’t feel like that. We lis­tened to hours of in­ter­views con­ducted dur­ing the 1960s and 1970s, and many sol­diers said they en­joyed life in the trenches and it made men of them. One de­scribed it as an ex­tended scout camp with a bit of dan­ger thrown in!’


Mak­ing the film, which was shown in se­lected cin­e­mas across the coun­try last month, also gave the Os­car-win­ning di­rec­tor an in­sight into how the av­er­age sol­dier coped emo­tion­ally after re­turn­ing home.

‘We al­ways be­lieved they never talked about life on the Western Front be­cause it was so trau­matic,’ Jack­son ex­plains. ‘But the re­al­ity is that they didn’t talk about it with peo­ple who’d never ex­pe­ri­enced it. Civil­ians had their own ideas about

what the war was like and weren’t in­ter­ested in what the sol­diers who’d fought in it had to say.’


After go­ing through hun­dreds of hours of in­ter­views, Jack­son’s next task was to re­store the black-and­white footage he’d been given by the Im­pe­rial War Mu­seum. His vi­sual­ef­fects com­pany spent four years re­mov­ing scratches, sharp­en­ing up images and adding colour, yet the big­gest break­through came when they ad­justed the speed.

‘All the footage we see of World War One usu­ally has sol­diers walk­ing around like Char­lie Chap­lin,’ he says. ‘But once you slow the film down, they move like we do. They be­come hu­man be­ings again and their fa­cial ex­pres­sions come alive – it was fan­tas­tic to see. I was stunned be­cause I’d never done it be­fore, and the re­sults were far bet­ter than I’d dared hope.’

Born in New Zealand after his par­ents em­i­grated from Eng­land fol­low­ing World War Two, Jack­son ded­i­cated the film to his Bri­tish grand­fa­ther, who was one of thou­sands of sol­diers who served on the Western Front.

‘He died in 1940, so I never got to meet him, but mak­ing this film helped me un­der­stand what his life was like in the trenches,’ Jack­son says. ‘It brought me closer to him.’

In What Do Artists Do All Day? on Mon­day, BBC4 HD, 7.30pm,

Peter Jack­son talks about his per­sonal con­nec­tion to World War One.



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