Forecasting England’s future.
DIRECTED BY PAUL ALMOND AND MICHAEL APTED
Seven Up! opens with a grand promise: to offer a glimpse of England in the year 2000 through a cross-section of its representative citizens, union leaders, and business executives alike. The catch is that at the time of its release in 1964, 2000 was quite a way off, and the prospective union leader was but a 7-year-old schoolboy, scampering through the countryside and talking back in class.
The Up Series, co-conceived by Canadian documentarian Paul Almond and research assistant turned chief series director Michael Apted, is an engrossing if programmatic look at the impact of socioeconomic status on the fate of both the individual and the nation. After Almond’s initial episode, a documentary survey of fourteen British seven year olds of widely different backgrounds, Apted revisited as many of the subjects as he could find at intervals of seven years. The latest installment, 56 Up, was released this past May, long after the the project was originally supposed to end.
If the recent episodes have an inevitable air of nostalgia hanging over them, with some subjects having gone on to awfully gloomy outcomes since their fresh-faced debuts, the first two are striking for their utopian energy. For all the apparent arrogance of that bold mission statement, Seven Up! was really meant as a one-off project, a tentative forecast of the future based on a limited sample of kids. Almond’s coup, then, has less to do with prophesying than with catching the boundless movement and cheeky eloquence of his unformed subjects, and letting our speculation about what they’ll become flow from our own observations.
7 Plus Seven holds to its predecessor’s tendency for bold statements, announcing itself as an “interim report” on the state of England. Once again, though, the interest lies not in the thesis so much as the documentary evidence of young adults growing into both their bodies and their personalities, settling into new identities in some cases and consolidating old behaviour in others. For the most part, the kids are alright. At least, for now.