The Up! series is easily the most ambitious documentary project still going on. Michael Apted (who has directed some really mediocre James Bond movies) points his camera at fourteen subjects who live in multiple parts of England every seven years. He asks them pointed questions about what is happening around them and get to know their current situation. This has been going on since the mid sixties when these fourteen young kids were only seven years old. Apted frames these kids (who evolve into adults eventually) as representative of their generation. So over the next couple of weeks, I will cover each entry up to 56 up, the latest entry in the iconic documentary series, and ask if these movies really show a glimpse into the evolving politics of England or not.
Seven Up! is where it all started. This film was not actually directed by Michael Apted. It was a short film intended to show the quirky aspects of a seven-year old. Apted worked as a researcher on the project and handpicked several of the subjects in the film. The selection of the subjects is a little uneven. There are two children that are at a charity boarding house and school (both of their parents are alive, they are just steeped in poverty so they can’t provide a good home for them), one child who is still pretty poor but lives with his parents, one boy who lives in the country, three young girls who would be considered middle class, two boys who are also considered middle class, three boys who are upper class and are in private schools and one girl who is upper class and goes to boarding school. There aren’t a lot of kids from the middle section, because even the girls are on the poor side. Also most of them are from metropolitan areas and there is only one boy that represents rural life.Each child is interviewed and asked about their future. What they want to be when they grow up, if they will have a family, what their daily routine is and what they do for fun all produce interesting answers but little else. For instance the three boys from the upper class talk about how they all read The Financial Times because they have stocks. These little boys sit in full suits talking about how they read newspapers in order to see if they made money or not is really silly.
Throughout the film a line is repeated a couple of times and acts as the theme of this short: “Give me a child until he is seven years old, and I will give you a man.” The film posits that these subjects already have their basic character attributes and flaws that they will have for the rest of their lives. The boy they nicknamed monkey will always be one of those people who are rough and tumble (as exhibited by the fact we are introduced to him when he is running towards the camera and face plants right onto the ground, only to get right back up and keep running. It is very cute…) or the posh boy who reads the Financial Times and the Observer will always be a posh young man. It seems ridiculous to think about, but maybe it is true. I guess we will see.
It is hard to truly know this early on if these young children are representative of a changing England. They certainly exhibit certain aspects of everyday children that are present in even the United States. They like to joke around, act older than they are and be sweet little things. But to say they represent England is a little too much for me to say at this point.