The Up Series (1964-current, Michael Apted and Paul Almond, UK)

I just finished watching 21 Up, the third episode of the Up Series–an incredible documentary following the lives of 14 individuals from a variety of backgrounds and circumstances from age seven onwards. The first episode, 7 Up, was released in 1964, and ever since, an episode (of seemingly increasing length) has been released every seven years. The series is up to 56 Up–meaning the documentary participants are now over 56 years old, given that 56 Up came out in 2012–and I’m excited to see where life has taken these 14 individuals.

Some observations I’ve had about the series so far:

(1) At first it seems as if you’re seeing nothing more than 14 people grow up in front of your eyes–not terribly exciting, given how many people you watch doing that already in your daily life. But this documentary is so much more than that–it not only explores 14 individuals, but 14 individuals from very diverse backgrounds. It’s interesting to see how bright little Neil Hughes from the Liverpool suburb becomes a squatter, while shy little Nicholas from the country makes it out of farmland and into Oxford. It’s interesting to compare the three rich little boys from the prep school diverge on their paths and opinions–while John and Andrew seem to be as snobbish and privileged as ever as they age, Charles grows increasingly critical of social inequities and eventually ends up at a less prestigious university than John and Andrew.

The series provides an illuminating perspective not only for comparison purposes between the children–how did the rich kids turn out in comparison to the poor ones? How are their perspectives on similar topics different? How do they express themselves? What are their values?–but also for comparison purposes within each subject–how do their viewpoints change over time? It’s different from watching those around you grow up, because whereas you often don’t have the opportunity to interview them all at once on what they think about a variety of subjects (and you often forget what they believed before), here you get to dig deep into the minds and beliefs

(2) see changes in film


Cranford (BBC, UK, 2007)

Cranford (BBC, UK, 2007)

I’m currently watching Cranford, which aired on BBC One back in 2007. It’s a fantastically funny miniseries about a small English village resistant to change, even in the face of the Industrial Revolution. Brilliantly cast, Cranford derives the bulk of its heart and humor from its band of outspoken spinsters, led by the formidable Eileen Atkins as Miss Deborah Jenkyns and including Imelda Staunton, pictured here, as the silly and energetic gossip with the floppiest of bonnets and a tendency toward misunderstandings. Her one liners are perfection, as are Ms. Atkins’s more sternly delivered ones. A personal favorite moment in this five-episode series is when Atkins’s Deborah discusses the consumption of oranges with her sister Miss Matty Jenkyns (a particularly adorable Judi Dench) and house guest Mary Smith (Lisa Dillon).