63 Up

63 Up

Richard Linklater’s recently declared plan to shoot a movie version of “Merrily We Roll Along” over a 20-year period, much like he shot “Boyhood” over 12 years, is being rightly hailed for its chutzpah. But he’s still got nothing on Michael Apted, who has essentially been directing the same movie since 1964, a record for ambition in filmmaking continuity that no one’s likely to break in any of our lifetimes. The latest installment in Apted’s ongoing documentary narrative is “63 Up,” ninth in a series that began with “Seven Up!” and has proceeded like clockwork in following the same group of British subjects every seven years. If this is the final chapter, as Apted suggests it could be, it’s a worthy cap to one of the boldest experiments in world cinema.

The producers never had any plans for a sequel, much less eight, when “Seven Up!” premiered on ITV in England 55 years ago and unexpectedly became such a national sensation that regular follow-up appointments were deemed required. At the time, Apted enchanted viewers with footage of 14 pretty much uniformly adorable kids who were going to be filmed just going about their daily business. Somewhere between subtext and blatant theme was the idea that England’s class system determines children’s futures at least as much as biological destiny. In 2019, moppetry has given way to meditations on mortality, as the participants deal with parental losses and consider the time limit on their own lives, if not the series.

With “63 Up,” the filmmakers has finally had to deal with a death in the family. We come to find that the school librarian Lynn (all the “kids” have always been identified by name only) passed away a few years ago after being hit in the head by a swing at a playground with her grandchildren, exacerbating a preexisting condition she’s seen discussing as a danger in a flashback from an earlier film. Viewer grief is in order for a woman who’d come off previously as a strong advocate on the subject of governmental cutbacks in social services, especially after having lost her job helping children in the prior installment.

Meanwhile, Nick tells the camera that he’d been diagnosed with throat cancer just 10 days before filming and, clearly shaken, is dealing with “all the stuff we repress as hard as we can.” Nearly everyone has lost one or both parents, which leaves the otherwise sanguine Peter pointing out cheerfully that he’s “next in the firing line.” The film is full of talk of pulmonary embolisms and hemorrhages as well as heartbreak.

The less noble way of looking at the “Up” series is to see it as Britain’s longest running soap opera, but Apted (who took researcher credit on the first film and officially took over as director with 1970’s “7 Plus Seven”) has been nothing but dogged in trying to maintain a strong sociopolitical component in all the films, even if that can feel shoehorned in at times as an addendum to the domestic catching up everyone is tuning in for. Brexit has provided the filmmaker with a more convenient than usual way of getting at that stuff in this installment, as he asks each of the now 12 participants their thoughts. The predictability of those does serve the purpose of further establishing a key Apted point, that class as well as biology is destiny — although no one was still unabashedly pro-Brexit by the time of filming.

It’s not all end-is-nigh gloom — at least not personally, even though no one seems to hold high hopes for the state of Britain itself. The most youthful looking of this gray-haired lot, Peter, is using the occasion of his 60s to R30; start a band! Peter explains he’d skipped three of the prior films because the “tabloid press” had been determined to “portray me as an angry young rad in Thatcher’s England.” That some of these subjects talk about how they were celebrated or stereotyped in the mass media may not seem foreign to Americans who are used to that now with reality-show contestants, but the idea that this lot has been dealing with it for 56 years is staggering. That the “Up” series has kept the participation rate it has is a testament to Apted’s ease with his subjects — this round, they have 11 out of 14, with Lynn lost to death and only Suzy finally deciding to join Charles in opting out, for reasons unknown.

Not all 11 stories are going to be of equal interest, and you might uncharitably wish that a few more of them had voluntarily Brexit-ed from the series, to alleviate the 139-minute running time (cut down from the three-hour version ITV aired in the U.K. back in June). But the film does save the best for last, in the form of the troubled but resilient Neil. He’s long seemed the most at-risk of the series, having been a squatter or homeless in some installments. Neil eventually found vocational purpose in his life as a Liberal Democrat councilor and lay minister, but in 2019, his partner has dumped him and he’s openly depressed. His anxiety in the closing segment is quite the contrast to lorry driver Tony describing himself as an eternally “cheeky chappie” in the opening.

Neil sort of ends the movie on a cliffhanger; it’s unclear whether his story might yet have a happy ending, to the extent that any mortal life does, or whether his open vulnerability might yet get the best of him. While everyone else in the film pretty much agrees with the original “Seven Up!” motto — “Give me a child until he is 7, and I will give you the man” — Neil provides proof that some men’s personalities are still being written at 63. He, frankly, is the reason we need a “70 Up.” Will we get it? At the film’s Telluride premiere, Apted said he was comfortable with this being the swan song, then, perhaps sensing disappointment added, “Whether we make another one, if we’re all above ground, it’s all fluid.”

— Chris Willman, Variety

63 Up

Sun January 26, 2020, 2:00 PM, Muenzinger Auditorium

UK, 2019, in English, Color, 139 min

Michael Apted



10 films for $60 with punch card
$9 general admission. $7 w/UCB student ID, $7 for senior citizens
$1 discount to anyone with a bike helmet
Free on your birthday! CU Cinema Studies students get in free.


Pay lot 360 (now only $1/hour!), across from the buffalo statue and next to the Duane Physics tower, is closest to Muenzinger. Free parking can be found after 5pm at the meters along Colorado Ave east of Folsom stadium and along University Ave west of Macky.


Park elsewhere and catch the HOP to campus

International Film Series

(Originally called The University Film Commission)
Established 1941 by James Sandoe.

First Person Cinema

(Originally called The Experimental Cinema Group)
Established 1955 by Carla Selby, Gladney Oakley, Bruce Conner and Stan Brakhage.

C.U. Film Program

(AKA The Rocky Mountain Film Center)
First offered degrees in filmmaking and critical studies in 1989 under the guidance of Virgil Grillo.

Celebrating Stan

Created by Suranjan Ganguly in 2003.

C.U. Department of Cinema Studies & Moving Image Arts

Established 2017 by Chair Ernesto Acevedo-Muñoz.

Thank you, sponsors!
Boulder International Film Festival
Department of Cinema Studies & Moving Image Arts

Looking for a gift for a friend?
Buy a Frequent Patron Punch Card for $60 at any IFS show. With the punch card you can see ten films (a value of $90).

Cox & Kjølseth
: Filmmaker Alex Cox & Pablo Kjølseth discuss film topics from their own unique perspectives.

: Pablo and Ana share Zoom-based briefs on what's currently playing at IFS

Search IFS schedules

Index of visiting artists

Sun Mar 10, 2024

Jeanne Dielman, 23, quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles

At Muenzinger Auditorium

Mon Apr 1, 2024

Hot Shots! Part Deux

At Muenzinger Auditorium

more on 35mm...