DVD Review: 49 UP

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Based on the Jesuit maxim “Give me the child until he is 7, and I will show you the man,“ the Up series began in 1963 as a one-shot documentary (directed by Paul Almond) showing how a diverse group of English seven-year-olds– boys and girls from different regions and varied socio-economic backgrounds–viewed their world. It was a way to project what Britain might be like when these kids grew up to be adults in the year 2000.

In what’s become a life-long project, award-winning director Michael Apted took over with 7 Plus Seven and revisited the series’ real life characters every seven years to update audiences on their doings at ages 21, 28, 35, 42 and, now, 49– making Up television’s longest- running reality show, and an absolutely unique and brilliant cinematic achievement. Before its theatrical release last month, a boxed DVD set of all the previous episodes was made available in 2004 to boost buzz in anticipation of the latest installment.

You needn’t have seen other Ups to grasp and get hooked on 49. Of course, it helps to know a little about the characters being profiled, smartly narrated clips from previous episodes provide essential backstories for Tony the wannabe jockey who became a cabbie, Lynn the librarian who brings joy to disabled children, Nick the scientist who moved to the US to become a professor and all the other characters– beginning with their childhood circumstances, aspirations and expectations, and following them through their teenage angst, romances, marriage, creating families, breaking up, changing careers and other life events both meaningful and mundane.

As it turns out, most of the boys and girls have matured into fairly comfortable, settled lifestyles. AT 49, Tony’s still driving a cab but, fed up with Britain’s economic and social policies, he’s moving his entire family– wife, kids and grandkids– to Spain. Meanwhile, Nick and his wife are trying to decide whether to move back to the UK.

Their lives are not the stuff of great drama. What‘s fascinating about them is that they’re ordinary the same way we are and experience the minutia and difficulties we all go through. They’re a reflection of our own life stories.

In 49, they admit the filming process has been very difficult for them at times and explain why they’ve stuck with it.

In one of the DVD’s extra features, Roger Ebert interviews Michael Apted, who expresses concern and sadness that some of the characters may decide not to appear in the next episode.

If you’ve been an UP fan, 49’s a welcome opportunity to visit and catch up with dear old friends. Even if you’re a newcomer, you’ll find yourself wanting more. But you’ll have to wait another seven years for 56 Up to hit the screens for another UPdate.

Jennifer Merin

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