Skip to main content
The Independent Critic

Michael Apted, Bruce Balden, Jacqueline Bassett, Symon Basterfield, Andrew Brackfield, John Brisby, Peter Davies, Suzanne Dewey, Charles Furneaux, Nicholas Hitchon, Neil Hughes, Lynn Johnson, Paul Kligerman, Susan Sullivan, Tony Walker
Paul Almond, Michael Apted
144 Mins.
First Run Features
Roger Ebert Interview w/Michael Apted; Filmmaker Statement


 "56 Up" Continues Apted's Masterful "Up" Series 

In my fantasy life, I will reach the end of it having created something along the legacy that director Michael Apted has created with his masterful "Up" collection of documentaries.

While Apted was actually only an assistant on the first in the series, 1963's 7 Up, the Up collection really is the crowning achievement for a director whose directorial life has included the likes of Amazing Grace, Coal Miners Daughter and a host of other films. For those unfamiliar with the series, which seems almost unfathomable, it all started with a BBC broadcast in 1963 as the camera followed a group of seven-year-olds in an effort to see if the class system still existed in Great Britain. What would have been a marvelous solo film has become a masterful (Yep, using that word again!) portrayal of the life journey as Apted revisits these people every seven years.

Welcome to 56 Up.

For those who've followed the series religiously, like myself, you already know that 49 Up found several of our familiar faces in a not quite so peaceful place as they were passing forty and and on their way to fifty. Now that everyone has passed fifty, there's a remarkable hopefulness that it would have been reasonable to not expect given everything that unfolded only seven years earlier. 

If you're anywhere near the 50's or 60's yourself, you may find yourself understanding this passage of time and move from unsettled discontent to an almost peaceful contentment. Those we'd become accustomed to being angry or unhappy or conceited have entered a different phase in life that feels a lot like reaching that point of saying "This is my life and I'm okay with it."

Existing in the mid-40's myself, I found myself watching these stories unfold and feeling like I was watching old and familiar friends and people who were having life experiences a lot like mine as I start to feel less pressure to perform and more freedom to just sort of sit back and appreciate life as it is.

56 Up at times feels like it's a less compelling film and it may very well play better for those familiar with the rest of the series who will have a really full appreciation for the lives and their journeys. There's less conflict, lighter drama and even the moments of discontent are quieter and less emotional. Yet, the stories themselves are no less involving and, on some level, I'd argue they're even more emotionally resonant.

Apted's method of capturing the passage of seven years doesn't always feel complete, but how can you actually capture the passage of seven years unless you're truly following folks for all seven years? As this would be impossible, Apted spends a week (7 days) with each series participant every seven years and, not surprisingly, those who participate in the series have come and gone and come back over the years. While 7 Up was originally intended as a class study and Apted has moved away from that somewhat, in many ways it still succeeds as a class study when you watch the people involved and see how their lives have changed over the years.

There are, of course, other magnificent documentaries but it's likely true that no documentarian has so consistently created such intelligent and compelling documentaries as Michael Apted has done with the simply unforgettable Up series and with this latest addition to the series, 56 Up.

© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic