This series which began in 1964 and follows the same group of people every seven years until the last installment in 2012 which was called 56 up. It's fascinating to say the least. You can't help but fall in love with several of these seven year olds based on the very candid and thoughtful answers they give to questions about the world around them. First of all 1964 was a time of serious social change and these children are clearly going to experience radical change in the next seven years to 1971 England. But 1964 England was still entrenched in it's past and was technically just recovering from the war. The children all - rich and poor - speak a more gentile English language. The ones in fancy schools are extremely bright with extraordinary vocabularies and very thoughtful, generous means of expression. They have the mannerisms and speech patterns of their parents and teachers most likely but it is a very noticeable difference to todays English. This early '60s group of children earnestly cared about social issues without spewing the words of a learned ideology. In fact Neil, who is the most endearing and adorable of the 7 year olds, imagines a person of many colors like purple and yellow when he is asked a question about 'colored' people. Jackie points out that it's just an issue of brown skin versus 'sort of pinkish' and that the differences stop there. They are not reciting learned answers and making grand gestures of acceptance the way children would today. You can see on their faces that they are really trying to sort out some of these issues so that it's fair to everyone.
This little boy Neil is everything that you think a happy, healthy seven year old boy should be. He draws you in and really makes you want to just hug him. You have high hopes for him and then you see him at fourteen, which, granted is a low point for most human beings, but we see that the sparkle and confidence is clearly gone. And then it just completely unravels over the next few decades.
He manages to pull out of complete obscurity but not at all the life we all wished for him. He is a wonderful, thoughtful, intelligent man who has some of that charming little boy in his adult character, but the very sad fact is that if a very intelligent, energetic young man doesn't find his way in the world in a way that suits the times then he is lost to homelessness. He needed to sort things out in his own way and time and truly had to fight for his right to live as a sort of hermit. He managed but it was obviously a little too humbling and very difficult to come back from. His story is worth a very careful consideration. Obviously we really know very little about this person from the ten minutes once every seven years but you do get a good glimpse into these faces and you do see that seven year old still there over all the years.
My other favorite was John. An extremely intelligent and gorgeous boy who seemed to be the only one really who was comfortable with himself throughout. He had a strong sense of fairness and a healthy dose of ambition and a very mature personality even at seven. By fourteen it was abundantly clear that this boy knew where he was going. The show sorted steered you into seeing John as a privileged product of a system that would make sure he succeeded. But that was unfair and untrue as we do watch others with possibly more privilege that do not succeed as he does. I think it is odd that they never point out that he is incredibly disciplined. He lets us know through some answers to questions that he studies fiercely and has very little free time. He works hard. You don't get into Oxford and play concert piano and have ambitions of landing in Parliament by being lazy or by scooting through an already mapped out agenda. Perhaps some do but it's clearly not the case with John. He is exceedingly articulate and very English in the best sense. He grows up to be a very lovely and responsible man which should be no surprise.
I think my least favorite person involved with the project is the director Michael Apted. I just feel like he tries too hard to show this sort obsolete concept of class ism and as the years roll by he becomes a little too modern to the point of accusing Tony of being racist in the last installment. It's completely absurd and Tony being nothing but honest and hard working seems like a scapegoat for Mr. Apted to try and make this 21st c installment relevant or something when he should really step as far away from the camera as possible and let the thing almost film itself. He seems to take a bit too much credit for a project whose real credit belongs to the person who thought it up and the patience and perseverance of the subjects themselves. In the end the real luck was in starting the thing in 1964. Sort of the beginning of the end in so many ways and lots of those ways being almost accidentally captured on film by this candid interviewing of these unsuspecting suspects. They certainly had no idea at the time that they were making a lifelong commitment and yet they almost all did. I applaud these human beings!
BTW - the entire series is available on Netflix and also a boxed dvd set.