One of the more ambitious projects in the history of global television, the "Up" series, done at seven-year intervals since 1964, has followed a group of men and women who were once British schoolchildren, and now in some cases have grandchildren of their own. All but the original have been directed by British-born Hollywood director Michael Apted ("Coal Miner's Daughter," "Gorillas in the Mist," "The World Is Not Enough"), whose new "56 Up" will be a different movie experience for each audience.
If you're the age of the people in it, or close, you'll be reflecting on your own life as well. If you're younger, and more cocksure, you'll be at a certain arm's length from the action, certain that your own life will take a more fruitful and less predictable course, but forewarned about fate, and the fleetingness of time.
There's certainly a cultural gap to be bridged for American viewers of this Granada Television production. The first film was a response to the proposition that the British class system had somehow relaxed in the postwar period; 49 years later, that system seems as intractable as ever. The privileged remain so; the lower-class participants, who seem to have had fewer expectations in utero, still occupy the lower rungs of their society, although a few are quite comfortable.
Each installment of "Up" has, by necessity, been a different kind of movie, given the amount of history it has to revisit each time out. But Apted creates a graceful back-and-forth from the earlier films to the present, and the experience of seeing people who have lived so much on screen is quite profound. On one hand, some of the lives seem to have been determined from birth; in others, the subjects display an enormous capacity for change, recovery and imagination. To an encouraging extent, the one unifying characteristic among the "56 Up-ers" is a certain doubt about having gotten involved in the first place.
PLOT Latest installment in series that began in 1964, following the lives of 14 English schoolchildren who are now entering late middle age. Unrated
CAST Tony Walker, Nicholas Hitchon, Jacqueline Bassett, Lynn Johnson, others
BOTTOM LINE Viewers may come away more melancholic than inspired, but few will fail to be moved.