Originally made for British TV, 28 Up, the fascinating documentary by Michael Apted (Gorillas in the Mist) is one of those films that never got the audience it deserved when it was released theatrically in the U.S. Beginning in 1963, Apted recorded the hopes and starting-out spirits of 14 7-year-olds, returning to them every seven years for a film update (this time around, they’re 28).
It’s a remarkable document, recording the changes in their lives and capturing an extraordinary range of ambition, energy, achievement, and disappointment. The subjects include a barrister, a bricklayer, a cabbie, and, most memorably, an aimless drifter. But of the 14 interviewed, only four are women and one a member of a minority group — hardly a balanced view of British society.
The film asks: Are we already more or less fully formed by the time we are 7? Perhaps, but it doesn’t try to present a definitive answer. What 28 Up does demonstrate forcefully, however, is how hard it often is for people to like themselves; that everyone has a story; and that people, even when not utterly charming creatures, are always worthy of notice. Watching 28 Up is like going to a party where you really talk to people and find out about them — without ever leaving your room. B+