British voters go to the polls Thursday in what’s been described as a pivotal general election. Many of the issues at stake, including Brexit, are referenced in “63 Up,” a British documentary series that gets its latest Minnesota release this weekend.
“63 Up” is the ninth film in what has turned out to be an extraordinarily long-running series begun in 1964. Back then, producers selected 14 children who were 7 years old. The filmmakers have revisited them every seven years since.
“The journey has been remarkably odd,” said Michael Apted, who has been involved with the series from the beginning.
The Up series was meant to be just a one-off show. It examined how the course of the lives of these children had already been set by the British class system.
Apted worked on the first show as a researcher. He selected the youngsters. The children came from a range of social backgrounds and communities urban and rural.
Their stories captured the hearts and engaged the minds of viewers. The show called “7 Up” was a huge hit.
But it still came as a bit of a surprise to Apted when five years later company executives asked if he’d be interested in revisiting the youngsters when they were 14.
“It took me about 0.2 second to say, ‘I think that is a great idea. Absolutely. We should do it. We should keep it going,’” he said.
Apted became the series director for “14 Up” and all the Up films that followed at seven-year intervals. Now in “63 Up,” the participants look back at theirs lives and what the show has meant to them.
Over the years there have been marriages, births and divorces. There have been triumphs and tragedies, missteps, infidelities and mental health issues. Some of the original 14 headed overseas. One now lives in Australia. Another teaches at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
There’s Tony, who wanted to be a jockey, ended up a cabbie, moved to Spain, and at 63 is back in England fretting about Brexit.
John attracted national attention, and some approbation, when at 7 he predicted his entire educational path including an Oxbridge education. In a later episode, he called out Apted for portraying him as privileged, and revealed his circumstances were more complicated.
And there is Jackie, who became famous later in the series for attacking Apted for only asking the women in the group about the prospects of marriage and domestic life. In the latest film, she says she’s moved on.
“People are always like, ‘Oh, my God! You had a right go at him. What was that all about?’” she said. “And I’m like, ‘I told him off. I didn’t kill him,’” she says with a laugh.
Apted has admitted to missteps in his questioning over the years. He’s also said he regrets that there are only four women in the group, a mistake going back to the original selection in 1964.
However, the series has been lauded and copied internationally. Apted said it’s interesting that only two countries have kept with it as long as the original though: South Africa and the Soviet Union.
“I think that the reason for it is that those two countries have got an ongoing crisis which they have had in some cases many decades longer than we have,” he said.
The series has developed a huge following, including in the United States where the films have been both broadcast and shown in theaters. Apted is delighted that viewers have an emotional connection with the participants.
“You can never have enough caring about other people, so if this helps educate in a minute way, then I am happy about it,” he said.
As well as showing in theaters, “63 Up” is on the BritBox streaming service, along with the eight past episodes of the show.
Apted is now 78. He’s had an accomplished career as a Hollywood director, making “Coalminer’s Daughter” and “Gorillas in the Mist” among many others. In “63 Up,” it is clear that even those participants who have complained about the way the shows have interfered with their lives have affection for him.
But there is a question hanging over the new film: Will we see another installment?
“Well it’s a good question,” Apted said. “I mean, I’m not a chicken. I would like for it to go on if I drop dead before we do the next one. It would be nice to do 70, wouldn’t it?”
It would indeed but fans will just have to wait and hope “70 Up” happens.
© 2019 Minnesota Public Radio. All rights reserved.