55 years later

Michael Apted’s ‘63 Up’

3 minute read
From 1964 to today: ‘Up’ subject Jackie Bassett. (Image courtesy of the BBC.)
From 1964 to today: ‘Up’ subject Jackie Bassett. (Image courtesy of the BBC.)

In 1964 a young filmmaker named Paul Almond directed a documentary for the BBC called 7 Up. Inspired by an old Jesuit saying that goes, “Give me a child until he is seven years old, and I will give you the man,” Almond interviewed 14 children from every level of Britain’s class system to show how social status influenced their attitudes about themselves and life in general.

Michael Apted took over the project and went back to re-interview these children seven years later, to see how things were working out. The results were so captivating that the Up series turned into a lifelong project for Apted. He would return again and again to these same subjects, every seven years, presenting a fascinating chronicle of these people’s unfolding lives.

A capstone in a changing world

This year, Apted is releasing 63 Up, likely the final installment of the series. Apted is now crowding 80, and knows that he and many of his subjects, who are all now well into their sixties, may not survive to provide another installment. It’s not unreasonable to look at 63 Up as a capstone, the finale in a fascinating lifelong chronicle.

Now that we see how these various children turned out, does that old Jesuit saying hold up? Well, yes and no. Certainly in times past in Britain, where the class system was thoroughly entrenched for millennia, one’s birth would usually dictate one’s destiny. However, as the 20th century wore on and folded into the 21st century, things became more fluid.

What life throws

All of the original kids, whether upper class or working class, dealt with various ups and downs throughout their lives, just as everyone does. What’s interesting is how things have pretty much evened out for all of them. The expectations of class, particularly the automatic privilege of the upper class, have essentially gone away.

This is not to say that Britain has traded its class system for a completely egalitarian society—certainly not. But the film series does demonstrate that the disposition of your life is not always dictated by the circumstances of your birth. It’s more about how you cope with what life throws at you.

As is usual in the Up series, Apted includes snippets of past installments to bring us up to date on the subjects’ lives to this point, providing necessary context about what has shaped their lives and current circumstances.

Personal parallels

What we learn is that all of the interviewees, as they enter their seventh decade, have reached some sort of reconciliation with their pasts and with their life issues, some of which have their roots in childhood. We see palpable evidence that age brings with it, if not wisdom, then certainly perspective.

Apted avoids imposing any obvious personal agenda of his own, as always allowing his subjects to speak for themselves. In doing so, he lets his audience draw their own personal parallels, to learn for themselves the lessons to be had from these uniquely observed, yet oh-so-identifiable people.

What started out in 1964 as a quirky social experiment gets its probable finale in 2019, having become a powerful teaching document filled with wisdom, pathos, and unrelenting humanity.

What, When, Where

63 Up, directed by Michael Apted, opens on December 13, 2019, at Ritz at the Bourse.

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