The "Up" series was based on the Jesuit motto "Give me a child until he is seven and I will give you the man." In tandem with that premise, the shows aimed to show that, like it or not, the British class system remained largely in place.
I recently bought the DVD set of the full series to date. I have thoroughly enjoyed seeing some episodes again after many years, and discovering, at last, what has happened to the group during later, unseen, episodes. My American husband has found the films fascinating in their Britishness, yet not completely unrelatable to life in the USA. People are people are people!
Astrologically inclined readers will already be thinking: Saturn! For a rundown on the 7-year cycles of Saturn see Jim D'Amato's article The Saturn Cycles. It has been a source of mild frustration to me that I can't know the birth data of those involved in the series, for this would be a wonderful opportunity to study natal charts with life patterns. However, these people have probably been exposed to enough already without a nosey blogger like myself adding to their discomfort. Even so - it'd be such an interesting exercise.
Respected movie critic Roger Ebert wrote in his review of the DVD set:
They (the programmes) also strike me as an inspired, even noble, use of the film medium. No other art form can capture so well the look in an eye, the feeling in an expression, the thoughts that go unspoken between the words. To look at these films, as I have every seven years, is to meditate on the astonishing fact that man is the only animal that knows it lives in time.
Paul Almond, a Canadian television and motion picture screenwriter, director and producer was 7 Up's creator. His English assistant and researcher Michael Apted (Sun in Aquarius)soon took over from him and has continued directing the programmes. He was involved in the original selection of the children. The kids were chosen, often with advice from their schools, on ability to express themselves well and be reasonably outgoing. It's remarkable that the group chosen has provided such varied and fascinating life stories. One of the group has emigrated to Australia, one to the USA, one likely to move to Spain. Most have married and have families, some have divorced - some re-married. Two teach, one dropped out of society completely but later found a way back, two practice law, one is a taxi driver, one is a fork-lift truck driver, one works in the construction industry, one for the BBC, one is a children's librarian, one a secretary.....and so on.
Class - the curse of the British - raises its ugly head often in the series. Some of the most amusing interviews, early on, are with priggish and pretentious little 7-year old boys and a girl from upper-class, wealthy backgrounds and expensive private schools. Some of these kids mature and develop rather more compassionately than others, and here lies much of the programme's fascination. Watching early episodes, it was easy to make assumptions about the futures of the boys and girls. Those assumptions often turned out to be very wide of the mark. The gorgeously bright and lively 7-year old Liverpudlian who seemed like the star of the first show, but in adulthood became an anti-social depressive. A development that shocked many viewers. The shy country lad brought up on an isolated farm in the Yorkshire Dales became a nuclear physicist and Professor at a university in the USA.
It's a sobering experiment to look at one's own life in 7-year slices. In my own case, until my 28-Up, or even 35-Up years, I hadn't got into a groove at all. My life didn't properly fit me before then. I'd have made a very boring subject.
One of the best reviews of the DVD set, other than Roger Ebert's, linked above is this one by Bill Gibron at DVD Talk. In his last paragraph he says:
All plaudits and platitudes aside, The Up Series is phenomenal. There is nothing else like it in the history of cinema, both in the documentary and straight narrative format. It proves the age-old adage that truth is stranger and more dramatic than fiction, and as a film series, it never once fails to move and manipulate you. Apted has plans in place to keep the series going on indefinitely – or as long as there are enough participants willing and brave enough to open up their lives to the invasive invitation over the next few decades – and the possibilities seem endless. Just like life. Indeed, The Up Series is really a devastating portrait of life as it is lived.
In the last episode of the series so far, 49Up, some of the participants began to air their grievances about the programmes. One indicated that this would be her last: "This is me - I'm done!" she said candidly, but without rancour. Others hinted that the intrusion into their privacy every 7 years was becoming unwelcome. One was very vocal about her lack of control. One, rather scathingly, likened the programmes to Big Brother or I'm a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here (the same one who "couldn't see the point of it all" at age 7.) He had only taken part in some of the later episodes to publicise his charity though - so actually the programmes had a point for him, if he could manage the humility to see it! Only one participant said the programmes were "important", even though he found the early ones painful, reminding him of his roots and homeland, which he misses. Two of the original group dropped out completely in their 20s, for their own reasons. Others of the group seem accepting and have taken it all in their stride.
It'll be interesting to see whether a 56Up does emerge in the next few years, and how many of the original group are still willing to take part.