…and I will give you the man.
This is the premise of the British documentary series known as the “Up Series.”
In 1964, an English television director chose fourteen 7-year-olds from different socioeconomic groups and different geographical areas of England and filmed them, intending to introduce people to the future laborers and executives of the year 2000.
What started as a one-off program became a series. Every seven years, those who wish to participate are filmed, which means there are currently eight films. The last film, 56 Up, was released in the States in 2013.
I don’t remember when I watched the first one; it may have been Christmastime, because I was at my mom’s house. As I watched it, I remember thinking that I wasn’t going to make it through all of them because I could barely understand what those 7-year-old munchkins were saying! All of the different accents: the children were from London’s East End, wealthy parts of London, Liverpool, the Yorkshire Dales. They were all adorable and most of them were talking very fast.
I stuck with it, though, and I’m so glad that I did. There was something fascinating about watching them go through all of the stages of life. Carefree and thoughtful children, awkward teenagers, young adults, middle age. None of their stories are remarkable: almost all of them get married by 21 or 28, have kids by 35, bury parents by 42 or 49. Many of them get divorced and remarry. But as Nick said in 56 Up, “It isn’t a picture really of the essence of Nick or Suzy; it’s a picture of everyman.”
As filming continued, the director wanted to frame the story in a political way, showing the difference in the high and low classes. But that angle fell away at some point and the focus shifted to everyone’s personal stories. It was apparent, though, that the wealthier people were more reticent about being filmed and tended to stay married. That being said, most of the lower to middle class people seemed perfectly content with their lives.
Even though many of the participants weren’t entirely keen on being filmed and becoming “celebrities,” ten out of fourteen of them have participated in all eight films. None of them initially “volunteered” to be filmed; it was their parents or their teachers who signed them up to participate. Thank you, Bruce, Andrew, John, Lynn, Jackie, Sue, Symon, Paul, Nick, Suzy, Peter, Neil, Tony, and Charles, for sharing your life with the world.
If you enjoy watching documentaries, these are a must. Roger Ebert included them in his top ten greatest films of all time list, for goodness’ sake!