Director Michael Apted’s outstanding series of movies that, at seven year intervals, has been revisiting the same 14 English children/adults since they were seven years old in 1964 is an extraordinary anthropological study that shows that life never turns out as we expect. The subjects that he chose came from all different social backgrounds in a very heavily class defined British culture, but in the end its not really this that marks them out but their persistent personalities that Apted captures so succinctly in each of the movies.
As we visit all 14 of them now at the age of 56 years old (the one that opted out of ’49 Up’ is back just to promote his new band) the interviews with them and their spouses are mixed in with footage of all the past movies that highlights how their lives have evolved. Sue, an East End girl who left school at the age of 16 to get married and have babies is now divorced and has a top administration job overseeing University Courses, whilst Suzy with her privileged background and destined for big things, changed her future completely when she also left school at 16 to become a secretary.
Symon, the ex Orphanage boy, has remarried and a happy family life of his own at last and and he and his wife are also foster parents, and even Jackie who swore off children completely in the earlier films now has three grown up sons.
Despite the fact that none of their lives went on the paths they thought/hoped it would (even John the successful barrister still regrets not being a politician too) they are all strike you as being very happy and extremely content with their lot. The one marked exception is Neil, the University drop-out, and once homeless for a few years, whose circumstances change the most dramatically in each of the films. Now a local Councillor and a Church Canon in a remote village in Cumbria despite all his protestations in camera, always seems just one small step away from having a meltdown.
Witnessing these lives unfold and mature has been a wonderfully successful experiment …. occasionally a couple of the subjects complain that they are more dimensional than the movies show them to be …. but always reading between the lines of their interviews, Apted’s portraits seems to me to be spot on for them all. Having grown up in the UK at the same time ….. and also as an ex Orphanage boy too … I can particularly relate to so many of these lives. Andrew, the solicitor, summed it up well when he said that class structure still remains in the UK, but now its not based on heritage but purely on wealth.
Now available on DVD