Directed By: Paul Almond
Starring: Douglas Keay, Bruce Balden, Jacqueline Bassett
Trivia: Critic Roger Ebert once said this film, as well as the entire series it inspired, was on his list of the 10 Greates Films of All-Time
“The shop steward and the executive of the year 2000 are now seven years old”. These words are spoken by narrator Douglas Keay at the beginning of Paul Almond’s Seven Up, a 1964 documentary produced for British television that brought together 14 different children, all seven years of age, with varying social backgrounds. Seven Up proved such a fascinating experiment that Michael Apted, who worked as a researcher on the picture, turned the project into an entire series of films, re-visiting the same 14 kids every seven years to check on their progress and see where life has taken them. The Up documentaries, as they’ve come to be known, are a unique cinematic experience, and Seven Up is where it all started.
By way of interviews, as well as watching the children interact with one another (including a trip to London Zoo), we learn a little bit about each one of them. Some of the kids have a lower-class background, including Nicholas, whose family lives on the Yorkshire Dales. He attends a one-room school located about 4 miles from his home, walking the entire distance each and every day. It’s a sharp contrast to Andrew, Charles, and John, a trio of boys from the upper-class London district of Kensington. When we first hear from these three, they’re berating The Beatles, with John admitting he “loathes” the band’s haircuts. Tony is the most outgoing of the bunch, a rambunctious lad from London’s East End who already has a girlfriend named Michelle (she sits next to him in class, and the teacher continually corrects Tony for turning around in his seat). Of course, not all the participants are boys; Suzy, Jackie and Lynn all attend the same school and talk about boys, whereas Tony’s girlfriend, Michelle, tells a story of how she once beat him up for throwing soap at her in the washroom.
In 2012, Apted released the 8th entry in the series, 56 Up, in which most of the youngsters from Seven Up, now middle-aged, return to fill us in on what’s been happening to them since the last film (in this case, 2005’s 49 Up). More than a collection of movies, the Up documentaries are a fascinating experiment, a recorded history of fourteen individuals, some of whose lives have taken a much different course than first anticipated. Always interesting and occasionally poignant, both Seven Up and the entire series are among the most important films ever made.