At seven, the children wriggled, opined, rolled their eyes, and told their truths. Apted, a researcher then for Britain's Granada Television, asked the children, alone or in small groups, about their friends and their dreams. Forty-nine years later, these subjects show the wear and the tear of life: some live hand-to-mouth, some are rich and cultured, some wed, unwed, rewed. The mums are now grandparented. The underclass are rotunder. In other words, they are a pretty normal bunch.
In "56 Up," Apted shows just enough of the frames from his earlier documentaries to hint at the changes in these lives. Peter, for example, spoke out against Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in "28 Up," for which he was pierced unmercifully in the press; he left the series, but he has returned here, largely to publicize the little band he plays in. Charles also dropped out to be a documentary filmmaker like Apted, who's also directed Hollywood movies like "A Coal Miner's Daughter" and "Gorky Park."
Another subject, Neil was seen in "28 Up" walking the roads of Scotland, looking the worse for homeless wear; by "56 Up," Neil is still a loner, but he has served his constituency faithfully on town councils, and he serves his church as a lay minister, vested in alb and stole. Listening to the working-class subjects means hearing tales of woe because of the English economy. For example, Jackie, crippled with arthritis, is being forced to return to work by her government.
What's interesting about the film is that it's possible to see in a little over two hours how they changed -- and who can say the same? Even comparing the Kodak snaps in albums with current iPhone pictures does not give the rest of us such a record. Granted, each film showed only a bit about each subject, and sometimes that bit did not, according to the interviewee, truly reflect who that person was at that time. Still, the luxury of having a film that records lives like this is a bit of a marvel in itself. "56 Up" is uncannily interesting, like good gossip that tells stories, good and true, about people in a village.