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56 Up

2012 | 139 min | Not rated | 1.85:1

56 Up


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Theatrical release date

 04 January, 2013
 14 May, 2012

Country of origin

 United Kingdom



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56 Up Preview  

 / 10
Preview by Brian Orndorf, February 7, 2013

It’s been an extraordinary journey for director Michael Apted and his longstanding “Up” series of documentaries. It’s a singular event that’s managed to carry on for decades, arriving at its latest stop, “56 Up.” We return to familiar faces and places with the new effort, catching up with individuals who’ve been followed on film since 1964’s “Seven Up,” and with this reintroduction comes an additional inspection of life in motion, watching the participants come to terms with their families, vocational and educational choices, and their very existence. Absorbing as always, “56 Up” has the benefit of age, able to look back on these personalities and gather a larger appreciation for their contributions to this historic documentary odyssey.

They were once a team of children selected to represent the class system in England, interviewed about their lives as a way of inspecting the solidification of future purpose at such a young age. Now, 49 years later, they’ve entered the autumnal stage of their adulthood, with a host of experiences and emotions helping to form the individuals they’ve become. Although the participants have been interviewed by Apted and his crew for many years, there remains a reluctance to share thoughts for the camera by a few of the adults, including Neil Hughes, who’s had it the roughest out of the group. Dealing with homelessness and psychological issues for much of his adulthood, Neil remains in a holding pattern that’s frustrating to the aspiring writer. Engaging in local politics and clergy work to remain invested in life, Neil seems especially burdened by his time with Apted, hesitant to open his life for inspection despite his continued contribution to the series.

Overall, most of “Seven Up” gang claims uncertainty when the director comes calling every seven years, with Peter Davies particularly unnerved by the attention these films incur. In fact, Peter returns to the “Up” series after skipping three previous installments due to negative publicity surrounding his feelings on Margaret Thatcher’s mid-80s government policies. Feeling the urge to reconnect with Apted and the ongoing narrative, Peter also seeks camera time to promote his band The Good Intentions, hoping this positive development in his life will change some of the negative energy he perceives has built up around him.

As with other installments, “56 Up” observes the progress of the participants as they negotiate the twists and turns of life. However, the documentary is darkened somewhat by the 2008 financial collapse (an event Tony Walker eerily predicted in “49 Up”), which has stolen peace of mind for many of the subjects, increasing monetary concerns and diminishing hope for the easy retirement they were promised as children. Of course, struggle is a daily occurrence for all these communicative folk, who deal with medical and housing issues, also witnessing their parental efforts rub off on their own offspring, creating a disquieting mirror effect for the subjects, watching their lives and influence take shape in a second generation or, for a few, a third with the introduction of grandchildren. While Apted maintains a tight focus on the original kids, moments are spent with sons and daughters, catching up on their choices, with specific attention placed on collegiate achievements to best contrast the educational attitudes of their parents.

The “Up” series has always achieved a remarkable sense of experience, detailing the very creation of character and personality as the participants are challenged from all sides by yearly demands. While there’s an undeniable sadness to some of these stories (most people don’t share the curse of having their bad decisions and marital failures documented on film), a strange force of life dominates the picture, gifting the audience a rare viewpoint to the process of aging and understanding, watching the elements shape the subjects. “56 Up” carries the event another step forward, finding the children continuing to grow and learn as adults, while beginning the practice of comprehension, feeling around the considerable curve of their lives. Once again, Apted assembles a captivating documentary that’s profoundly educational, essential viewing to aid the understanding of the human experience.

Director: Michael Apted

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