42 UP

Reviewed by GREG KING.
Director: Michael Apted.

In 1964 director Michael Apted began a remarkable documentary series for television. Fourteen seven year old children, drawn from different backgrounds in London, were chosen as the subjects of an ambitious series that would explore the truth behind the Jesuit saying: “Give me the child at seven and I will show you the man.” The series initially set out to demonstrate the belief that a person’s fate was sealed at birth, and shaped by his social background.

Since 1964, Apted and his film crew have returned to catch up with these children every seven years, charting their growth and progress and following them as they pursue their childhood dreams. But in the three decades since the 7 Up series began, it has undergone a subtle transformation, along with its characters. What began as a calculated experiment to show how class driven English society was in the ’60’s has now turned slowly into a journey through our own lives. The series often holds a mirror up to our own expectations, our hopes and dreams, our failures and our achievements, which gives it a powerful resonance.

In the interim, Apted himself has grown in stature as a film maker, with credits including Gorillas In The Mist, Nell, etc, but he still displays a remarkable affinity and empathy with his subjects.

42 Up is just like an occasional reunion amongst old friends, and Apted comfortably takes up this detailed and intimate portrait of these characters from where 35 Up left off. There are detailed flashbacks to previous episodes, which help place the characters and their desires into context. Most of the characters now seem to have adapted to the regular intrusion into their lives of the “poison pill” represented by Apted and his documentary team.

Two of the characters refused to take part in this latest instalment for their own deeply personal reasons. However, Simon, the black kid raised in a foster institution, returns, having now found happiness and contentment in a new relationship. But the most surprising story here is that of Neil, who had lived a nomadic life that had taken him to the wilds of Scotland’s highlands. A troubled picture of schizophrenia and depression, he has now become an active council man and politician. The film celebrates his achievements, and shows that anything is possible.

Some of the material is quite fascinating, while several of the characters have settled into a comfortable middle aged routine, which is less inspiring. Some of them talk candidly about the weight of expectations, and the feeling of having to have done something extraordinary during the past seven years just to make the next instalment worth while and exciting.

42 Up is primarily a “talking heads” documentary, although Apted makes sparing use of external footage. The static nature of Apted’s handling is a little dull and unadventurous. The running time of 130 minutes is a little generous for the subject matter. Consequently, the film may prove a little too long and slow for many in the audience, especially those unacquainted with either the concept or the characters.

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