they shall not grow old & troilus and cressida

they shall not grow old

a project where technical brilliance is the direct explanation of emotional power: peter jackson’s restoration of the imperial war museum’s footage is, more than his shaping of the story and the effect of the oral-history voiceovers, the reason why his film stays with us

two moments: when the sound and colour first arrive – and surprisingly it’s the sound i remember more than the colour – the rumbling of the gun-carriages in the background of the shot; and the smiling german prisoners, accompanied by a voiceover telling us how even at the time the british soldiers realised they were in the same boat, and how both sides mucked in to help each other’s wounded

troilus and cressida

a shakespeare i’d never seen or read, though i read chaucer’s version as a student – yet this is the place where bard meets rhapsode – shakespeare meets homer: shame on me

and where did he get his plot? how had the iliad been so transmuted? how can the faint suggestions that nestor’s suggestion to patroclus to fake achilles’ return might be a lusitania, a device to provoke (were patroclus to be killed…) achilles’ real return? and how can, in this production, ulysses shoot patroclus with a revolver?

as in chaucer, troilus’ seeing cressida/criseyde with ‘diomed’ is a shock; in neither text are we given a convincing account of how her loyalty was subverted; the rsc’s talking heads before the screening tried to counter this by adding some stuff about ‘cressida is a woman who knows what she has to do to survive’, and fair enough, but that doesn’t seem to be in the play – still, at least shakespeare shows diomed’s pressure on cressida; chaucer (as far as i can remember) sees her entirely through troilus’ eyes – when she goes to the greeks she is unseen until troilus sees her in the distance with her new man

How they are related

War, war, war. As the film starts, Jackson’s voiceovers tell us that the war was the best thing in their lives, that it was what defined them as men, that is was what gave them meaning. As it ends, voices tell us, as the hobbits found when they returned from Mordor, that nobody had a clue about their experiences at the front: there was an utter cognitive gulf between servicemen and others. So perhaps we shouldn’t judge Cressida, or Diomed, or Troilus. Or Ulysses.

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