56 Up is the eighth installment in Granada Television’s Up series, which documents the lives of fourteen British children beginning in 1964 when they were seven years old, up to today. Since the original episode, every seven years the camera crew has returned to catch up with the participants on where their lives have taken them since the last episode and to ask them a routine round of questions about their lives—the answers to which predictably vary wildly with the passing of time.
Every subject has a very different story. Some live perfectly average, uneventful lives; some become homeless or suffer great tragedy; and others grow up to be successful, happy and sometimes even a little bit famous. Every person’s life, however, is equally interesting and informative. The compelling element of this documentary isn’t how dramatic or heart-wrenching an individual’s story can be, but rather the simple ability to watch this person age fifty-six years before your eyes. Being able to view this slice of life (no matter how contrived or edited it may be by the shows producers) provides an enjoyable and provocative perspective into humanity.
Many of the subjects of the documentary repeatedly bring up what are glaringly obvious issues with the series; some have even opted not to participate in several episodes. For starters, the time spent with each subject is limited to seven days every seven years, so the footage captured is incredibly subjective and can only convey a fraction of who each person really is. The exploration of each person’s personality consists of a series of banal, intellectually uninspiring questions, mostly limited to matters of career, marriage, family and money. Also, as many of the 56 Up subjects have pointed out, the original series, begun in the 1964, was intended to serve as a class study, one which implied the rich, posh children would grow up to do great things and fulfill their station in life, while those growing up in foster homes and out in the country wouldn’t make anything of themselves and would only offer tales of poverty and sadness. As the series progresses, however, all of the subjects grow up to prove how wildly inaccurate the show’s original presumptions were and how diverse and unique every life can be. Although 56 Up isn’t a profound analysis—really just skimming the surface of every participant’s life—it is an enjoyable and entertaining look into being human, aging, and how different our lives can turn out from how we imagined.
Directors: Michael Apted & Paul Almond
Starring: Michael Apted, Bruce Balden, Jacqueline Bassett
Release Date: Jan. 4, 2013