56 Up

In 1964, a group of seven-year-old children were interviewed for the documentary Seven Up. Now they are 56.

Poster art for 56 UpIt is, perhaps, the ultimate reality show, though the performers aren’t celebrities and don’t particularly seem to welcome the attention. 56 Up is the latest installment in Michael Apted’s remarkable documentary series, which began when its 14 participants, an unruly gaggle of 7-year-olds, were asked about their lives and their dreams for a British tv documentary called ‘Seven Up’. Apted (a young researcher on the original film) has revisited them for a new documentary every seven years, letting us follow their lives along with him. His format has long been set: about 10 minutes per person, with each segment mingling vintage footage with present-day interviews, giving us the uncanny experience of watching a person age before our eyes.

Would that all books could be as compelling as this series, which finds something deeply moving in the stories of ordinary lives. Like all of the ‘Up’ films, it’s most haunting to compare the new footage with the long-ago 7-year-olds.

There are a few dramatic revelations in 56 Up and hard times haven’t left this group untouched. But what’s most striking about this installment is an overall sense of serenity and optimism, with simple pleasures to be had in the laughter of grandchildren and the satisfaction of work well done. We see Sue, who’s joined a local theater troupe, crooning the song lyric ‘Smile, though your heart is breaking’; it’s a motto that seems to suit most of this resilient crew, who bare their lives to us with courage and grace.

– Moira Macdonald, The Seattle Times
 

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