56 Up and the grace of God

If you live in a city that showcases art films, independent productions, and documentaries, you are very fortunate indeed.

In the event that you do, I would encourage you to find a feature film called 56 Up. It is a fascinating documentary that follows the lives of 14 diverse children from all over England, starting when they were seven years old, in 1964, and revisiting them every seven years.

Now 56, the “children” can look back on their lives and their accomplishments and, surprisingly, their disappointments, with an equanimity which seems to come with age.

But it wasn’t always so. In the beginning they were a bouncy lot, filled with opinions, judgments, and childhood dreams. At 14 they were beginning to question their convictions and revising their plans for the future. By 21 their lives had begun to fall into place, and by
28 most of them were married and many had children of their own.
By 35 several of them were divorced.

At 42 and 49 they had resigned themselves to their lives and, ironically, the more successful of them had some regrets and unfulfilled dreams, while the less affluent and successful appeared more accepting of their lot.

Contentment seemed to be the prevailing mood at 56, although by this time, having been filmed over nearly half a century, and having become minor “celebrities” in England, they were aware of the limits of their portrayals and their roles as “representative Brits.”

Michael Apted, who created the series for television in Britain and released it as a series of films in the U.S., has done a brilliant job of reprising each of their life stories with warmth and generosity, giving us a glimpse of the changes, physical as well as emotional, that they underwent over the years and reminding us once again who they were at each successive phase of their lives.

It’s a stunning documentary that touches everyone who watches it, inviting us to take stock of our own lives, and reminding us, inevitably, that there but for the grace of God…

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