A Generation Speaks: Our Review of ’56 Up’

Posted in What's Streaming? by - December 18, 2019
A Generation Speaks: Our Review of ’56 Up’

Granada Television or Michael Apted probably only meant for Seven Up! to be a one-off film but both company and director ended up following their fourteen young subjects every seven years. Britbox celebrates the upcoming release of 63 Up. Their way of doing so is acquiring the previous installment 56 Up as part of their exclusive content. There’s always something to extrapolate even within the subjects who had simple trajectories. But it’s nice to see their struggles and victories. One of these victories belong to Nick Hughes, who points out his local projects as a city councilor. His trajectory is one of the most compelling in the series. He started as an Oxbridge hopeful and homeless drifter before finally becoming a local politician. There’s also Peter Davies, who survived Thatcher-era proto-cancel culture through music.

What’s interesting about the Seven Up! film series as it progresses is that it shows the institutions in which these specific citizens have to live with. As teenagers, they have to deal with the school system. And as they grow older, they deal with things like marriage and the workplace. 56 Up takes a few minutes to zip through each subject or group before settling in to show what their lives at 56 are like. And these few seconds show those transformations. Jackie Bassett at 14 would be realistic about talking about school. At 56, there’s a happy resignation about her complex living situation with her ex-husband in urban Scotland. Apted prioritizes family over work with Jackie, but he does this with male subjects too.

56 Up doesn’t confine its interests with the original subjects. It also gives ample camera time to their children and grandchildren. This film, which comes in three installments, isn’t unwieldy, although it has a few problems. It feels comprehensive on an audience standpoint but it’s understandable that the subjects would feel the limits of this format. Nick Hitchon and Suzy Lusk belong to the rural Oxbridge set, a minority in this pool of subjects. And they criticized the film’s format, and their concerns are valid. Just like the two of them, all of the subjects had to add further context to their earlier selves. Apted also wishes to be as objective as possible, except for when he asks Jackie about Thatcher’s cuts which also affected Nick. But this at least shows how collaborative this film is.

I still like this installment of this series. In between the necessary talking head sections, the Up films catches the most precious moments in these subjects’ lives. It shows Bruce Balden’s marriage as well as everyone else’s. It’s also there when some of these marriages don’t work out. And it’s nice to see both the level-headed approach that both the film and the subjects have to divorce. In more conventional narratives, events like that would ruin people. It also shows subjects like Bruce’s apprehension towards having children. He ended up having children and grandchildren anyway. Both Apted and the subjects have a giving spirit. They’re passing the torch to the next generation and their potential.

And that potential shines through even with or especially with Tony Walker. Most of the time, the subjects talk back to Apted about the limitations of his gaze. This time around, it’s him doing some of that confrontation, pointing out that Tony may or may not be racist because of the things he say. They don’t necessarily resolve that argument, but they end up revisiting one of Tony’s old haunts. That haunt is a racetrack that is now the Olympic stadium, a place that invites the rest of the world to Britain. There’s an air here of reconciliation, of complexity that makes me look forward to seeing how all of these subjects change seven years later.

You can watch 56 Up on https://www.britbox.com/ca/.

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While Paolo Kagaoan is not taking long walks in shrubbed areas, he occasionally watch movies and write about them. His credentials are as follows: he has a double major in English and Art History. This means that, for example, he will gush at the art direction in the Amityville house and will want to live there, which is a terrible idea because that house has ghosts. Follow him @paolokagaoan on Instagram but not while you're working.
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