In 1964, a British television documentary gathered 14 7-year-olds from different economic and societal backgrounds for a series of interviews. The age was chosen from a Jesuit maxim, "Give me a child until he is 7, and I will give you the man.. There were certainly political motivations behind the piece, titled Seven Up, hoping to expose the inequities of the class system as it still existed. The program was a success, but what it turned into was more remarkable and timeless than the original producers envisioned.
Michael Apted, who was only 22 when he worked on Seven Up as a researcher and assistant, subsequently took on the ambitious task of reassembling the subjects every seven years since to see how they were progressing. Apted was the director and producer for 7 Plus Seven, then 21 Up, 28 Up, 35 Up and most recently 42 Up (released in 1998). Apted moved to the U.S. in the '70s and became a successful director of narrative films, including Coal Miner's Daughter (1980), Gorillas in the Mist (1988) and the Bond pic The World Is Not Enough (1999), and is current president of the Directors Guild of America. But it's clear the Up series is his life's work, which thankfully he returns to the U.K. for every seven years.
Whatever politics may have been underlying the original project, the series as a whole is a much more humanistic document, cutting across class, race, sex or nationality. And while the first three are inherently interesting because there is so much physical change from 7 to 21, 28 to 42 is just as interesting for the continuing emotional development. This new boxed set is a opportunity both for anyone new to the series and for fans who have never had the opportunity to watch them all together to witness the amazing journey of rather ordinary people from kids to adults with kids of their own. Each viewer will have favorite interviewees (mine are probably Tom and Bruce), and they often change from film to film. Though 14 children were profiled in the original, not all return for every film. None has died, but for a variety of reasons since 21, a few have decided not to participate from time to time.
There are no real extras included in the DVD set (it would be silly to interview people whose claim to fame is being extensively interviewed), save an excellent audio commentary on the 42 Up disc in which Apted, now 63, recounts the history of the project and some of his methods and anecdotes. His only regrets are that he didn't include more girls (especially as he regards the strides women have made since the early '60s as one of the most dramatic societal changes in the series' span) and that he didn't include more subjects from the middle class. But it was never intended as a lifelong study, and the lot he does follow is still a fascinating bunch.