The promotional lead up toward 63 Up has carried an air of finality about it, as though we should all prepare ourselves for the end of the series. While death does loom much larger in this installment than others, 63 Up does not quite feel like the stopping point for this grand cinematic experiment. Then again, there will never be a perfect narrative conclusion either. Very few of us knowingly wake up for the final time, and it’s not like 70 Up will end each segment with its subject putting an eloquent button on their entire life.
Michael Apted’s Seven Up! documented a group of children from disparate ends of British life in the 1960s. Every seven years, another documentary is made catching us up on their current situation. The first three entries saw them quickly grow into adulthood. They got careers. Had families (many of the spouses became subjects in their own right). Nearly all of them got divorced at some point. Lately, they all just seem to be living the life they built for themselves. The last entry, 56 Up, was, for lack of a better term, uneventful.
In some respects, this is also true of 63 Up. The group is older, but a lot of them look the same as they did at 56, to the extent that it’s easy to confuse new footage with recap footage from the last film. Nevertheless, mortality now plays a major role in the series. Lynn, represented here by her husband and two daughters, passed away between films. Nick has throat cancer. Many of those in good health are nevertheless dealing with the death of loved ones.
And that’s life. While the Up series has textually focused on politics, class and its question of how much our seven-year-old selves dictate our future, its true value has been the candid examination of lives being lived over time. Apted’s series is built for poignancy over entertainment. Its main driver for intrigue and twists, the troubled Neil, has been more or less settled for the last few installments (though he has loved and lost since we last saw him). Its other firecrackers, Tony and Jackie, haven’t changed much either.
Apted tries to get the group to comment on current times. This is most interesting with Tony, whose career as a cab driver has been directly impacted by the rise of Uber and Lyft. Many subjects note how difficult it has become for younger generations to get into the housing market. The subject of Brexit (and in Nick’s case, Trump) comes up frequently but no one seems all that interested, usually wrapping up their thoughts in one sentence and moving on.
But that’s not really what this series is here for. Commentary about class, economics and politics has always been better explored in the Up series’ broad strokes rather than soundbites. You watch these films every seven years and cry your eyes out at the sheer scope of it, or how it reflects your years and experiences. The commentary is a secondary attraction, and Apted’s attempts at directly addressing them in this installment mostly go nowhere.
If there is a 70 Up, it’ll come out 2026. That’s an insane thought. Just think about how much the world seems to change in seven years. And yet, it often seems like not much really changes at all in this series, a broad takeaway worth appreciation. Life goes on. The grandchildren seen here will grow up and complain about the economics faced by their grandchildren and on and on. There’s comfort in that. The series’ somewhat slow nature is appropriate as none of these folks are under any obligation to entertain us. Our imposition to know their business is a disruption to them, and that in itself is fascinating enough. All I know is I’ll never stop instantly running out to catch the next installment. If you feel the same way, nothing could keep you from watching 63 Up.