I first discovered this documentary series in 1985 when 28 Up was released in the US. I had never heard of the film but a friend who was working in the industry suggested we see it.
The Up Series is a series of documentary films produced by Granada Television and originally broadcast on the BBC that have followed the lives of fourteen British children since 1964, when they were seven years old. So far the documentary has had nine episodes spanning 56 years (one episode every seven years). The series topped the list of The 50 Greatest Documentaries. The children were selected to represent the range of socio-economic backgrounds in Britain at that time, with the explicit assumption that each child’s social class predetermines their future. Starting in 1964 with Seven Up, The UP Series has explored the Jesuit maxim, “Give me a child until he is seven and I will give you the man.” The original concept was to interview 14 children from diverse backgrounds from all over England, asking them about their lives and their dreams for the future. Every seven years, renowned director Michael Apted, a researcher for Seven Up, has been back to talk to them, examining the progression of their lives.
It is surprising that only two people have dropped out of the project and one person has died. One gets the impression that the remaining group’s participation is motivated by a mixture of sanguine acceptance, pride and a sense of duty to the project. The group was not meant to represent an entire cross-section of society; Mr. Apted hastily and arbitrarily chose the children from among schools he contacted at the time. There was no intention to continue the project as a series. In retrospect, Mr. Apted regrets the shortsightedness of his decisions, especially the gender imbalance of having only four women.
An astonishing, unforgettable look at the structure of life in the 20th century, The UP Series is, according to critic Roger Ebert, “an inspired, almost noble use of the film medium. Apted penetrates to the central mystery of life.” The latest installment, 63 Up, premieres in theaters this week and previous episodes are available on DVD. Rush to see it and binge watch the previous films.