In so many ways, the “7 Up” documentary series is far more real than most reality shows.
The films began following 14 subjects at age 7 and check back in with them every seven years. The eighth installment, “56 Up,” airing on “POV” Monday, Oct. 14, on PBS (check local listings), catches up with them at age 56.
It began as a single documentary chronicling children from across England when they were 7. This was a commentary on the class structure. The rich children expected to go on to college. The poor kids knew they would work.
Over the years, we have seen them as kids missing their front teeth, as awkward teenagers and as young adults. Some married and divorced young. We see them with their partners, and they reflect, without artifice, on their lives.
Each film has been different. This one moves quickly and is intimate.
Director Michael Apted (“Coal Miner’s Daughter”) says the films changed as the age difference between them mattered less.
“I’m 15 years older than them,” he tells Zap2it. “And when they’re younger, that’s a huge difference. But now, when they’re in their 50s, and I’m 15 years older than them, it seems to come closer together. And I think we’re more collegial. We’re more intimate. I think we’re franker. I think they’re savvy to an extent about what goes on, so they can handle themselves better.”
The films, expertly woven together, show how a timid child often grows into a hesitant adult and how a levelheaded girl becomes a woman who deals with whatever life throws her.
“I would say it’s important to fight, yes,” says Tony Walker as a very cute, round-faced boy. He initially wanted to be a jockey, then said he would be a cabdriver and has done quite well for himself. Once he was driving Buzz Aldrin, and another cabdriver asked for his autograph. Walker asked Aldrin, but the driver meant Walker.
“I love the attention factor,” Walker says. “I love all the things about it, what it’s meant over the course of the 50 years now. It was Michael who gave up a whole life of his film career to sort of keep it going.”