Director: Michael Apted
Production Co.: Granada Television
Producers: Michael Apted & Margaret Bottomley
Cinematography: George Jesse Turner
Editors: Orel Norrie Ottie & Kim Horton
Research: Claire Lewis
Colour and Black & White
When he was a 23-year-old researcher, Michael Apted helped select the 14 seven-year-olds to be interviewed for a British TV documentary. He found and filmed them again when they were 14, 21 and, finally, 28, with an eye to discovering how their lives had progressed, how they either did, or did not, fulfill any youthful promise, and how the vestiges of the English class system still determine the stations to which its subjects will gravitate. The entire spectacle of growing up is framed within the context of the famous dictum (originated by St. Francis Xavier and adopted by Lenin), "Give me a child until he is seven, and I will give you the man."
Aptly, the 14 represent a good cross-section of urbanites and rural inhabitants, men and women, upper classmen and East Enders. None of the group died, two emigrated (one to Australia, another to the U.S.), one dropped out of society and two of the best educated elite, claiming that they had nothing further to contribute, declined to be interviewed at 28. Despite the crumbling of the empire, the evidence on display here indicates the English class system, and the strong deterministic influence of the accompanying school systems, still persists as an amazingly resilient force. Furthermore, even those individuals furthest down the economic scale seem only marginally bitter and discontented; even if they might criticise the current Thatcher government on certain points, none displays any coherent political thought or any sense of creative rebellion.
Typically, many of the subjects who seemed bright-eyed and bushy-tailed at seven and fourteen are confused and sullen at 21, but have emerged into acceptance of conventional marriage and family, and of their lot in life, by 28. One, Neil, sadly evolved into a total misfit who wanders the countryside looking for odd jobs. A true lost soul who fell between the cracks of society, he has no prospects and is the saddest of the group. The only black in the group, Simon, is, if anything, the least political of them all, and he's busily engaged in raising and supporting his large family and has little time to consider broader matters.
- Variety, 20/3/85
One can't resist the human faces of 28 Up, the people here who prove one of drama's most bedrock foundations, and cinema's most basic capabilities: everyone captured on his own terms makes sense. And there is something heartbreaking about seeing a child grow up, period. So much is invested in the notion of childhood innocence that the adult is inevitably a history of compromises. That some here have adapted, and a few achingly have not - all documented by Apted's immensely more sophisticated camera and intelligence in 1984 - brushes up against some sad, shared truth.
- Harlan Jacobson, Film Comment, 12/85
28 Up... projects at the very least all the irresistably elemental appeal of a family album on film. Here we actually witness living, breathing human beings passing through time, each pausing for our perusal at fixed intervals, each at his or her own station of the cross. Time is indeed recaptured again and again, not only through the prodigiously Proustian act of creative will, but through the inherent genius of the medium in recording the ever fleeting reality of existence. What makes 28 Up such a rare phenomenon in film history is rooted in the economics and customs of the industry.
The rationale for the original Granada programme was the oft-quoted Jesuit maxim: "Give me a child until he is seven, and I will give you the man." Yet very few of the questions related to the child's religious beliefs. The interrogators seemed more concerned with education and career goals and fantasies. Most of the children in the sample were middle- and lower-class. Boys outnumber girls ten to four, and three of the four girls were bunched together as one entry, as were the three very amusing upper-class, Oxbridge-bound seven-year-old twits. Clearly the cards were stacked against class privilege. Oh yes, and there was one fatherless black child from an orphanage. The poorer kids came over as free and blithe spirits in contrast to the pompous snobs who were already too aware of their social eminemce.
Curiously, the transparently ideological bias of the 1963 short seemed to exude hope for change and improvement in the social structure. As the years went on, however, everyone connected with the study was swamped in a Heralitean flux. The subjects got older, but so did the filmmakers, and so did England. As I write, the violent riots of Brixton and Leicester reflect a country more hopeless and despairing than the England of two decades ago. By the time of 28 Up, two of the male subjects have gone abroad, one to America, one to Australia. Another is roaming the British countryside as a tramp. And the three twits? Two have gotten their precious Oxbridge educations and embarked on their successful careers and marriages. The third pursued the arts at a less pretentious 'red brick' university and has ended up a producer at the BBC. Perhaps for professional reasons, he refused to be interviewed at 28, as did one of the Oxbridgers. Even at 14, the latter boy felt they had been set up to provide anti-aristo propaganda. Yet they certainly have not turned out badly.
Heartbreak comes with the less privileged members of the group. All the dreamy vitality at seven has been ground down in the grim economics at 28. Many of the bright young faces are puffy and tired. The girls have become prematurely plump matrons. Two of the boys are teachers, one a frustrated idealist, the other a self-confessed lazybones. The fatherless black child? He confounds the interrogators by raising a large well-disciplined family. He seems conformist to the core, hardly the stuff of riots and revolutions. The later questioners make half-hearted attempts to discover traces of raised social consciousness, but there is almost none. The less privileged vote every seven years, but the rest of the time they are preoccupied with their own personal problems. Despite the uprising of the proles and the rhetoric of the left, the class system is alive and well in England.
I was continually absorbed and often overwhelmed by this, the most spectacularly surprising satisfaction of the 23rd New York Film Festival.
- Andrew Sarris, The Village Voice, 22/10/85