49 Up. Running Time: 136 minutes, website
Director: Michael Apted. Starring: Bruce Balden, Jacqueline Bassett, Symon Basterfield, Andrew Brackfield, John Brisby, Suzanne Dewey, Charles Furneaux.
The entire premise of the Seven Up documentary series has been an alleged quote from St Ignatius Loyola, 'give me a boy until he is seven, and I will give you the man.' The problem with this premise is that an exhaustive study of St Ignatius’ vast writings reveals he never wrote it. Much more importantly, as this fascinating film series develops, the principle is found to be increasingly untrue.
Shot over 42 years now, 49 Up looks at how life is developing for 12 of the original 14 children whose parents or guardians agreed for them to be part of the first film in 1964. The two who have opted out did so many years ago. One is not mentioned at all now, the other’s preference not to be part of it continues to be noted.
The stories of the remaining 12 people make for moving and fascinating cinema. We meet Neil who is managing his mental illness in the most courageous of ways. Tony, who wanted be a jockey, is now a grandfather. Suzy, who wanted a nanny to raise her children, is a shy but happy mother. Symon who lived in a Barnardo home as a child is the father of six, and looking to be a foster father as well. Symon’s boyhood friend Paul, who emigrated to Australia, has been through a dark night of the soul, but has emerged to a more peaceful place.
Nick, the lad from the Yorkshire dales, now a professor of nuclear physics in the USA, has had to rethink his future. Andrew who, at seven, liked reading The Times, still does. John who liked reading The Observer and The Times rightly continues to use the series to promote his humanitarian foundation in Bulgaria. Bruce, who was the most earnest of boys, is a relaxed parent of small children. And the last seven years have presented significant challenges for the original Eastend trio of Jackie, Lynn and Susan.
The biggest difference between 42 Up and 49 Up is how much more assertive these adults are about the intrusions this film series has made into their lives, and of director Michael Apted’s intentions in the portraits of them he has drawn. It is to his great credit that he left some of these tense exchanges in the final cut of the film.
It does not matter if you have not seen any of the previous films. Apted gives very good summaries of the previous highlights in each story.
49 Up may fail to prove that by seven years of age one’s whole life is programmed. But what it does provide is a vivid scrapbook, as Nick calls it, of how resilient humanity can be.