There is no doubt that this series is one of the most interesting ever committed to film. Following the lives of a dozen Brits from the age of 7 through 49, the series is both fascinating and heartbreaking. It's impossible to watch the series without engaging in a guessing game, wondering where in life each will be when the next film in the series is released. It's also impossible to watch the series and not identify with the participants, seeing yourself in each of them. Few films have had the sociological impact of the Up Series.
However, while watching each of the films back-to-back, an uncomfortable feeling began to settle in. Despite director Michael Apted's insightful approach, at times he seems to ignore the fact that a documentarian's role is to serve as an impartial participant and that his opinion has no place in the telling of the story.
Apted often conducts his interviews with those from working-class backgrounds, and are still living in working-class environs, with the assumption that they must be miserable. Presumably, this is due to his own set of experiences. Though Apted was raised in a lower-income section of London, he managed to secure a scholarship to the City of London School and then studied law and history at Cambridge University. His attitude at times appears to say, "I succeeded, so why can't you?" Several times he asks these working-class participants if they aren't capable of more than what they are currently doing, not recognizing that several of them are either quite content with their lives or simply haven't had the opportunities or means to build better lives for themselves. He seems unable, or unwilling, to recognize the other riches in their lives, such as family, friends and community involvement, and often dismisses these achievements rather than celebrating them.
The most flagrant examples of Apted's prejudice take place in "35 Up" in his interview with Tony, and in "49 Up" in his interview with Jackie. In the interview with Tony, Apted comments that everything Tony has ever attempted in his life has been a failure, ignoring Tony's stunning achievements, especially in consideration of his working-class roots. (At the time of "35 Up," Tony had realized his dream of being a professional jockey, an actor, he owned his own business, owned his own home, and had been married for 13 years with 3 children. Hardly what anyone would call a failure.) At times, Apted appears unable to recognize that the courage required to attempt new ventures is success in itself regardless of the outcome.
In his interview with Jackie in "49 Up," Apted asks Jackie whether her son is similar to her at his age. When Jackie says that he is, Apted asks Jackie if that is a worry, implying that Jackie's life is less than admirable. Justifiably, Jackie becomes upset by the question prompting her to respond with, "I never said that he picked up all of my traits, only my best traits."
Even with its flaws, the Up Series is a fascinating study of class structure and human evolution. Highly recommended.