Yolande’s Yard: On the Up and Up with Michael Apted

January 3, 2013


By Yolande Brener

The “7 Up” series started with one documentary intending to examine the state of England’s class system in 1964.  It was Michael Apted’s first job, and he never imagined it would still be going 49 years later, and even has franchises of the project being made in Russia and South Africa.

A Jesuit maxim says “Give me the child until he is seven and I will give you the man.”

By this principle, there have been several surprises in the film.  Upper class Suzy dropped out of school at age 16 and went to Paris to become a secretary, eventually focusing on family life more than career.  Working class Sue went on to become an administrator at London University, despite having been a single parent and never having attended university herself.

56up_splash2“The point of 56 really was one of the three working class girls who was a single mother and all this and now is working in administration at a university,” said Michael.  “For me that was a success story of 56.  And she’s done it with such grace and decency.  She was modest about it.  Amazing, how she could stand up in front of 600 people.  She had no choice.  She just could do it.”

“If there’s one thing I took away from it, it’s don’t be judgmental.  Don’t place my quality of life, my ambitions, or my value judgments on other people.  They might seem to be more impoverished than I am, but maybe in some ways they’re not,” said Michael.  “Parts of my life have been a colossal failure, you know.  I’ve had two failed marriages.  It isn’t particularly a failure in my terms, but in their terms it might be.”

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“I found something I really wanted to do.  And if it meant going away for six months to do a movie and leaving behind my wife and two young children, I had no choice.  I could riff on having a choice, but it wouldn’t have been accurate.”

56_UP_SYMON_49YRS_02There were topics the participants didn’t want to speak about like childlessness and mental illness, but on the whole they seem to have become more open and comfortable with themselves over time.

Each film has a different focus.  “Every new episode has to be self-contained,” said Michael.  “I was ready for 56 to be depressing and a bit negative and whatever and I was worried about that.”  “They seemed to be sort of at peace with their lives and the lives they’d created with their families and the different generations.  And they seemed to be in a position where they weren’t panicking about the future as I’ve panicked about my future.”

“56 Up” is currently showing at the IFC until January 10th and will be in wide release later in the year.


Families (Photo credits: www.myparkingsign.com)
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