49 Up (United Kingdom, 2006)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

49 Up continues Michael Apted's extraordinary Up Series, which began 42 years ago in 1964 with Seven Up and has continued every seven years since. The latest (and hopefully not the last) installment progresses as expected, with updates on the lives of those interview subjects who are still participating. Seeing each new segment of the Up Series is like spending time with old friends. We're interested to see what has happened to them in the past seven years. There's an element of voyeurism to this, but it's more than that. Whether we actually "know" these individuals or not is beside the point; we feel we do, and this enriches the experience of watching the most ambitious documentary project ever committed to celluloid.

The original group of interviewees numbered 14. In 49 Up, twelve of them have returned. The only know-shows are Charles, whose last appearance was in 21 Up, and Peter, who last went before the cameras in 28 Up. John, who missed both 28 Up and 42 Up, is back, as is Simon, who skipped 35 Up. There are indications that Apted may lose one or more of his subjects when it comes time to make 56 Up. Suzy, the homemaker who has always proclaimed the project to be painful, all but states she's done (although she admits it's tough to predict where she'll be in her life in seven years). Jackie's contentious relationship with the director boils over on screen, and Apted elects to keep the confrontation in rather than edit it out. And John, although seemingly less resentful of the project's intrusiveness than in the past, gives no indication of whether he'll appear next time.

The strength of 49 Up, as with its predecessors, is the way in which it presents a look at a cross-section of human lives. Most of the subjects still live in England, although two have emigrated (one to Australia, one to the United States). Few, however, remain in the neighborhoods where they were born and/or grew up. Several have been through divorces and are embarking upon new lives with second wives. Others have become grandparents and are re-discovering what it's like to live with their spouses now that the children are gone. The experiences of the individuals in 49 Up are universal. No matter who you are, you will see something of yourself in at least one of Apted's interview subjects.

A few updates are in order. When we last met Tony, the London cabbie, in 1998, he and his wife were experiencing a rough patch in their marriage caused by Tony's infidelities. Now, those troubles are past. Tony, always perhaps Apted's most open and vocal supporter, is as free as ever in discussing his life and family. Jackie appears resentful of how she has at times been portrayed, and brings this to his attention while the camera are rolling. Charles indicates he finally understands the appeal of The Up Series, likening it to "reality TV." Neil, the once-homeless man, has made peace with himself in the world of politics (although he still has no wife, which he states is his greatest regret). Bruce is finding it challenging being a dad at his "advanced age." (He's 49; his children are both under age five.) Nick has divorced his first wife and married a younger American (who, unlike his previous spouse, has no reservations about appearing in front of Apted's cameras).

49 Up features more camera time for the children of the subjects than any of the past films, although few of them speak directly to the camera for any significant time (Paul's archeologist daughter being an exception). For the most part, the children appear comfortable appearing in the project, which is probably an indication of the celebrity-obsessed era in which they were raised. In many cases, they have fewer reservations than their parents about The Up Series.

As with the previous Up entries, Apted has edited 49 Up in such a way that it can be appreciated by someone who has never before seen one of the films. Numerous clips are provided from the earlier movies so someone new to the series can understand its power. Those who have seen one or more of the previous films can use these clips as a reminder, although long-time viewers will need little prodding to recall names or faces. 49 Up is a worthy entry to this lengthening series - a solid starting point for those unfamiliar with Apted's greatest work, and a must-see for those who have been down this road before.

49 Up (United Kingdom, 2006)

Director: Michael Apted
Cast: 12 of 14 original interview subjects
U.S. Distributor: First Run Features
Ranked #6 in Berardinelli's Top 10 of 2006
Run Time: 2:15
U.S. Release Date: 2006-10-06
MPAA Rating: "NR" (Profanity)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 1.66:1