The premise behind the Up series is deceptively simple: take a cross-section of children at age 7, ask them about their hopes for the future, and then return every seven years to mark their progress. However, the results of these experiments, launched in 1963 by Britain’s Granada Television, are anything but mundane, and their revelations about society, maturation, and the human condition were compiled into six extraordinary films, packaged together for the first time in this five-disc set. We meet the 14 children whose lives we will follow for the next 36 years in Seven Up, a episode of the television series The World in Action and directed by Paul Almond. What becomes evident almost immediately is that class and background will have an indelible effect on the kids for the rest of their lives; the upper-class boys and girls seem confident to the point of boorishness, while the middle- and working-class children seem resigned to a life of hard work or inevitable failure due to their backgrounds.
Fascinated by the footage, Almond’s assistant, Michael Apted (later the director of The World Is Not Enough, among others, and president of the Directors’ Guild), proposed to revisit the subjects every seven years, and in 1970, 7 Plus Seven was released, followed by 21 Up in ’77, 28 Up in ’84, 35 Up in ’91, and the most recent entry, 42 Up, in ’99 (Apted plans to continue the project). And the changes that occur to the original 14 (some of whom drop out of the project) are among the most fascinating and often tragic ever recorded on film. Success, failure, marriage and childbirth, poverty, illness–almost every possible element of the human experience passes before Apted’s camera. And while each of the children’s stories is riveting, the viewer will undoubtedly be gripped by that of Neil, a shy boy who endures incredible hardships. A one-of-a-kind series and sociological experiment, The Up Series is required viewing for not only documentary fans but any viewer with a curiosity about and concern for their fellow humans. The DVD set includes commentary by Apted on 42 Up. – Paul Gaita