49 Up

When 21-year-old Granada Television researcher Michael Apted began tracking the lives of 14 English children from various classes and backgrounds, could he have imagined he'd still be following them half a century later? Probably not. And yet here they are at 49, old enough to have grandchildren the age they were when they first began answering questions...read more

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Reviewed by Maitland McDonagh
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When 21-year-old Granada Television researcher Michael Apted began tracking the lives of 14 English children from various classes and backgrounds, could he have imagined he'd still be following them half a century later? Probably not. And yet here they are at 49, old enough to have grandchildren the age they were when they first began answering questions about their lives and aspirations in the early 1960s. And while having seen earlier installments in the Up series makes this film richer and more resonant, it's structured so a newcomer can jump right in, with clips from the preceding five installments artfully edited together into "previously on"-style montages. Of the 14 original subjects, two dropped out altogether; others declined to participate in certain segments, then later returned. The good news is that over all, they've turned out pretty well: They've gotten married, had children, bought houses, lost jobs and found new ones. Even Neil, who as a 7-year-old wanted to become either an astronaut or a bus driver and instead drifted into homelessness and mental illness, appears to have pulled himself together. The man who once gloomily predicted that he'd wind up sleeping on the London streets instead relocated to rural Cumbria has now become active in the church and in local politics, and is sustained by a social safety net that provides housing and services. As a group, they've also become more overtly critical of the films that have defined their lives at seven-year intervals, perhaps because they've successfully weathered decades of professional and personal turmoil, emerged more or less battered but unbroken. Michael, the Yorkshire farmer's son who made a successful career in America as a scientific researcher and teacher, calls the process "emotionally draining," while Jackie, always the angriest of a trio of East End girls who went to school together, furiously takes Apted to task for bending their stories to his own purposes rather than letting them be themselves. Upper-class John, a wealthy trial lawyer married to an ambassador's daughter, "bitterly regrets" his participation but nails the films' appeal when he compares them to Big Brother: The Up films are the ultimate reality TV series, one in which the scope is epic and the obstacles — forging lasting relationships, overcoming childhood disadvantages, coping with thickening waists and thinning hair, making a living, raising children, being happy — put contrived bug-eating challenges to shame.

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  • Released: 2006
  • Rating: NR
  • Review: When 21-year-old Granada Television researcher Michael Apted began tracking the lives of 14 English children from various classes and backgrounds, could he have imagined he'd still be following them half a century later? Probably not. And yet here they are… (more)

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