In 1963, Michael Apted was a researcher who helped prepare a program called "7 Up" for England's Granada television network. At a time when it seemed as if the British class system was finally in its death throes, the program sought to present the future of England by interviewing 14
seven-year-old children from different backgrounds. Apted went on to become a noted film director, but along the way he kept up with these children as they grew, filming them at seven-year intervals as they entered adulthood. 28 UP mixes interviews of those 14 children, now 28 years old, with
footage of them at 7, 14 and 21. It's a brilliant premise, and Apted does it justice.
With the exceptions of trio of upper-class boys and a trio of working-class girls, each of the subjects is featured in a separate segment of the film (originally shown in three parts on British television). Cockney Tony's childhood dream was to become a jockey, but he didn't make the cut. At 28,
he works as a cabbie, has a wife and two children, feels in control of his life and is saving money to buy his own pub.
A brilliant math student, Bruce wanted to become a missionary. After graduating Oxford, he became a teacher of immigrant children in an impoverished area of London, and feels the most important thing he has learned in his life is that "authority can be bad and corrupt." Like Bruce, Suzi came from
an upper-class background. Of all the interviewees, she has changed the most from 21, when she was a chain-smoking rebel vowing never to marry or settle down, to 28, when she is a mother happily married to a respectable and successful lawyer.
Nick is the son of a Yorkshire farmer who attended Oxford, received a doctorate in physics and moved to the United States because there were no opportunities for research in his field in England. He and his wife, who is also British, regret being so far from their families, but find much that is
stimulating in an American academic environment. Peter attended teacher's college, where he met his wife, and now teaches history at comprehensive school. He feels that the educational system is in serious trouble, and that private schools are anachronisms that perpetuate the class system. Shortly
after the filming of "7 Up," Paul and his father emigrated to Australia. Paul now has a family of his own and his own bricklaying business, and hopes to give his children a more secure home life than he feels he had.
Interviewed as a group at age 7, John, Andrew, and Charles demonstrate their upper-class upbringings by mimicking their fathers' opinions on what newpapers to read and the question of whether "poor" people should be let into the public schools. John and Charles both refused to be interviewed at
28. The film's most memorable presence, however, is Neil, who suffered a "nervous complaint" at the age of 16. After dropping out of university and working as a laborer, he has spent the last few years living on welfare and roaming the Scottish countryside. He feels deeply alienated from British
society, and states that, as difficult as his current lifestyle is, it is preferable to life in a suburban apartment.
Also interviewed as a group, Jackie, Lynn, and Susan are working-class girls who have settled down in standard fashion. So has Simon, a black youth raised by a single mother (after years in a children's home). Married with five children, he says he has everything he wants in life.
When Andy Warhol predicted (accurately) that in the future everyone would be famous for 15 minutes, he didn't add that this would make fame rather boring. Apted's series of films demonstrates an opposite premise, that everyone is interesting if you study them long enough. Even if Apted did nothing
more than film a few minutes of his subjects talking into the camera every seven years, the results would have a certain fascination. Luckily, he and his editors work with an intelligence that makes the most out of a unique opportunity.
Although some of those interviewed chide Apted (who is never seen and only rarely heard) on his persistence in raising questions of class, it is clearly as inescapable a fact of life in modern Britain as at any time in the past. Although those born into the middle and lower classes downplay the
role of class in their lives, it is evident in the attitude of John, Andrew and Charles, who become increasingly defensive about their stations in life and (in the case of John and Charles) drop out of the filming entirely. Their lives seem to be progressing forward, while so many of the other
participants already seem to have peaked: they seem prematurely middle-aged. But this is, after all, an ongoing project, and one which is certain to grow more mesmerizing with each new installment.
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