Joan Wickersham

A study of class captures shape, sweep of real lives

This summer, my husband and I and our 18-year-old son have been watching a group of children grow up. When we first encountered them a few weeks ago, they were 7 years old. Now they are 49. We’ve seen them at play and in school, seen them get taller and finish school or drop out, find jobs, lose jobs, fall in love, and marry and have children of their own. We’ve listened to them talk about their hopes and ambitions, and we’ve watched them achieve and fall short of their goals.

These children are the subjects of English director Michael Apted’s massive, decades-long documentary series, which started in 1964 with the film
“Seven Up.” (Apted began as a researcher on the first film and stepped into the director’s role with the second.) The first film profiles 14 7-year-olds, representing a cross section of English geography and class. There are kids from London’s working-class East End, from a remote Yorkshire farm, and from a Liverpool suburb. There are two boys separated from their families and living in a children’s group home. There are several children from the upper-middle and upper classes: a boy at a harsh boarding school; a cosseted schoolgirl; and three unintentionally hilarious posh Londoners who sit on a couch boasting about following their shares in the “Financial Times,” and reeling off the names of the schools and universities which Mummy has already determined they will attend.

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