In the dark: Leader movie reviews

Even at ‘63 Up,’ the former kids who were once Britain’s future are still growing up

Posted 2/26/20

As absurd as it might sound to modern audiences, there was a time when “reality television” honestly sought to capture the reality of people’s lives.

Decades before MTV premiered …

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In the dark: Leader movie reviews

Even at ‘63 Up,’ the former kids who were once Britain’s future are still growing up

Posted

As absurd as it might sound to modern audiences, there was a time when “reality television” honestly sought to capture the reality of people’s lives.

Decades before MTV premiered “The Real World” in 1992, or CBS aired its first season of “Survivor” in 2000 — even before PBS ran “An American Family” as a miniseries in 1973 — the Granada Television documentary “Seven Up!” was first broadcast in the United Kingdom in 1964.

Michael Apted was a researcher on the original film, which profiled 14 7-year-old British children as “a glimpse of England in the year 2000.”

On its own, it would have amounted to an interesting archaeological artifact, but then, a funny thing happened; seven years later, Apted caught up with all the same kids and became the director of the sequel documentary.

Seven years after that, he did it again … and again, and again, every seven years.

We’ve now reached “63 Up,” and not only has Apted earned a place for his portrait in the dictionary next to the entry for “commitment,” but he’s also managed to deliver a collective update on these former children, who were once envisioned as their country’s future, that even a new viewer can follow without having seen any previous installments in the series.

Apted’s greatest strength as a documentarian is, counter-intuitively, the very same formulaic didacticism in his storytelling style that he’s stubbornly refused to update since he began helming these films.

Apted introduces each subject with a roughly chronological montage of clips summing up the events that led to the state of their lives, before juxtaposing between past and present to capture their evolving views and values on matters ranging from dream careers to future family plans, before closing out the conversation by asking each man and woman whether they believe they’re still essentially the same person as they were when they were just 7 years old.

Apted is able to get away with such a predictable approach because he knows the real surprises lie in what each youngster-turned-adult has made of their lives, not just in between childhood and adolescence and their official adult independence, but in between each seven-year increment separating early adulthood from middle age and the onset of their senior years.

If you enter “63 Up” as your first film in the series, you will still find yourself feeling like you’ve known each of its participants all your life, not only because you get to see such a broad swath of who each one has been for almost all of their lives, but also because each one will remind you of someone you know and love and are maybe a bit exasperated by as well.

It’s like a family reunion of relatives you remember fondly in spite of never having met them before.

You’ll root for their sometimes unexpected successes and roll your eyes at their all-too-predictable mistakes, but it’s hard not to wish each one well, perhaps because it’s so easy to see the charming kids they used to be, in the twinkle they still carry in their eyes today.

Aside from tracking the development of a diverse cross-section of British youths as they slide into old age, “63 Up” captures the vitally important truth that the whole notion of adulthood as a destination is a sham.

When I was a little kid, I was terrified of growing up because I always thought that, once you reached a certain age, that was it; you were an adult, and you had to be completely grown up and know exactly what you wanted and what you planned on doing for the foreseeable future.

Nothing could be further from the truth, as we see with these 14 former children, who are still very much in progress as people, even at the age of 63, just as they were every seven years previous.

There’s no magic moment when any of us will have it all sorted, and while we might cringe at glimpses of our past selves, as just about all of the profile subjects admit to doing when confronted with clips of themselves when they were younger, it’s worth keeping in mind that who you will become, seven years from now, is likely to react to your present-day self in much the same way.

And that’s OK, because as a wise man said, we all change and continue to become different people throughout our lives, which is good, because you’ve got to keep moving, but you should always remember all the people you used to be.

Watching “63 Up,” and seeing 14 lives unfold before me, reminded me of a few of the folks I used to be. It was nice.

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