The appearance of the sixth installment of Michael Apted’s brilliantly conceived and executed series of films tracing the lives and fortunes of a diverse group of Britishers coincided with the rise of what is now called “reality television.” On shows like Survivor and Fear Factor, viewers are allowed glimpses into how so-called ordinary people will behave in extreme situations. The Up series is the antithesis of this trumped-up scenario; it allows life to go on unrecorded, save for a drop-in by Apted and his crew every seven years. The scenes of domestic life — the husband and wife playing with the kids in the garden or walking through the streets on a shopping trip — are the film’s least interesting moments because, like the reality shows, they’re manufactured. It’s when the subjects become talking heads and have to play catch-up on their lives and reflect on the previous seven years that this series trumps the reality shows. There is little extreme behavior recorded here; the worst-off person, Neil, is, by the time this installment was filmed, on the rebound from years of homelessness and debilitating mental problems. But it is the unexpected turn of events — a woman who once claimed she wouldn’t want any children and is now a loving mum — or the obstacles that people overcome — another woman raising three energetic boys on her own, despite debilitating arthritis — that grab and hold your attention. No cheap thrills here, just an honest and heartfelt examination of the vicissitudes of life. —Tom Wiener
Receiving his early education at City of London School, Michael Apted went on to study Law at Cambridge University. By the age of 22, however, he was gainfully employed as a director at the BBC, laboring away on the popular soap opera Coronation Street. While working on the documentary series The World in Action, he collaborated with Paul Almond on the 1963 telefilm 7 Up, in which 14 seven-year-olds, drawn from every social level in London, were interviewed concerning their lives, innermost thoughts, and aspirations. Apted followed up with his subjects on his own every seven years, charting their progress and grilling them concerning their hopes for the future, resulting in the subsequent Seven Plus Seven, 21 Up, 28 Up (which incorporated footage from the earlier installments), 35 Up, and 42 Up.
While he never completely abandoned the documentary form (certainly not with several TV awards to his credit), Apted has also kept busy with dramatic features, beginning with the bizarre… read more