If you enjoy marathon watching a television series like there’s no tomorrow, then chances are you’re perfectly conditioned to go through the most epic marathon one can enjoy on Netflix. It’s called the Up Series, profiling a group of individuals every seven years, starting as children, up until the latest installment, 56 Up—which is playing at IFC Center now. It started as a one-off televised documentary in the 1960’s called Seven Up!, profiling a group of 14 children from various backgrounds, with the aim of painting a complete picture of Britain. Thankfully, Michael Apted (who was working as a researcher on the original program, but seven years later was in the position to take on the directing role) saw the potential in revisiting the same group of children seven years later with Seven Plus Seven, and since then we have seen the children go through their awkward teens, into their awkward early 20’s, and so on.
The original program was spurred by the notion that Britain’s class system was so strictly structured that one could tell a child’s future at the age of 7. Seven Up! profiled a diverse group of children from mainly the top and bottom social rungs, and had them profess all their hopes and dreams into the camera. I use the term ‘diverse’ loosely her— it was the 1960’s mind you, and while Apted later lamented the lack of middle class participants, they also didn’t take into account feminism, and only 4 of the 14 individuals are female, and only one participant is from a non white background. Three of the boys from wealthy backgrounds predicted (two of them correctly) the exact trajectory of their education; the less privileged children’s predictions ranged from the more fantastical to the sobering realistic. By the time 21 Up came around, the political undertones had, for the most part, gone by the way side, and the series was now more focused on the personal lives of the young men and women participating. Revisiting them every seven years becomes exceedingly emotional—you are with them when their dreams fail, you are there while they recount marital troubles, and you witness lives spiraling out of control. Particularly, with the case of Neil, who battles with homelessness and mental health issues throughout the course of the series. You are also watching them as they become proud parents, mature individuals, and as Neil turns his life around (with the help of fellow Up-er Bruce – capital AWW!), and despite the weight of the compassion and sympathy you feel while watching their hardships, there are tremendous rewards in growing with these characters. It may sound credulous to say that you truly know and love them by simply getting a summary of their lives every seven years, but I can’t think of any other way to word it. The pay off is truly amazing, and if you are lucky enough to live in a city that will be showing 56 Up in the upcoming months, I suggest you catch up with these people and then go to the theaters to see them— it will feel like seeing old friends again.
Check out the below trailer from the 56 Up series.