28UP begins with a set of questions that seems to hark back to the sociological and psychological ideas of the ‘40s and ‘50s. Is an individual’s personality fully formed at age seven? Will his or her class status bear heavily on life decisions? Will the education one receives be central to one’s career choices? Director Michael Apted goes one better by re-visiting the same group of individuals at seven-year intervals to ask each of these questions once again.

One thing that makes this very English film fascinating to an American is the subject of class. Americans do not spend very much time talking about class. On the surface, they do not seem very interested in it. But American parents, like English ones, want their children to have more choices than they did. They want them to receive a better education and have better career opportunities. Their pre-occupations, in fact, are no different than those of their British counterpoints in 28UP. The only difference is that these British interviewees are much more likely to be aware of society’s structures, even if only to make a point of dismissing them.

The biggest change in the forth installment of UP is also its unifying element: Tony, Suzi, Simon, and others have married since 21UP, and these relationships have had a profound effect on each of them. Tony had originally planned to be a jockey and when that dream failed to materialize, he became a cab driver. At 21, he expressed resentments against the class system and gave the impression that he would be perpetually disappointed in life. Now married with two children, he plays golf with friends and strives to do well at his job, giving the appearance of a happily settled person. Suzi was an unhappy, depressed, chain smoker at 21 with no plans to marry or have children. Now at 28, she lives with her husband and two children in the English countryside and is surprisingly easygoing and quick to smile. Her interaction with her husband and children is touching, and it isn’t difficult to imagine her living the remainder of her life here.

The biggest concern of these new parents is the future education and well being of their children. Paul and his wife live in Australia and have two children. A child of divorced parents, Paul wants his children to live happier lives than he did. He would also be willing to send his children to a private school, an opportunity he never had, in hopes of giving them more choices and a chance to move up. Simon and his wife have five children, and while he encourages their education, he doesn’t push it. He seems acutely aware of each child’s needs and is willing to take time to help them with schoolwork or to solve a problem. He can provide them with a happy childhood, he believes, by providing them with something he never had: a father.

One of the most fascinating though disturbing portraits is of Neil, a loner who has been traveling throughout England since the previous film. He is unsettled, restless, and an incessant talker, or the opposite of all of the portraits mentioned above. He lives off social security, hasn’t worked in three years, and doesn’t seem to relate well to other people. He appears to be far from resolving a number of conflicts, such as being turned down for Oxford, that were with him seven years earlier. The odd component in this portrait is how intelligent he appears. He enjoys quiet conversation about literature, he says, and is alienated by the pastimes that most people enjoy, such as noisy pubs and small talk. One begins to worry, watching this directionless adult, that he will never find his place in society.

Suzi, Simon, Paul and others have also resolved their conflicts by going to work and focusing on everyday needs. At 21, many of these participates seemed confused and self-absorbed, feelings not uncommon for people who really haven’t started out on life’s path. In many ways they seemed to be talking about life instead of living it. At 28, they worry about their careers/jobs and about their children’s future. Instead of complaining about their lack of educational opportunities, they concentrate on earning enough to give their children these opportunities. Living life, keeping a household and seeing to the needs of a spouse or child, leaves less time for self-absorption.

28UP reinforces certain themes that have been emphasized previously in the series: people will make choices based on their class status and the education they have received. But this installment also shows that there is a great deal of elasticity in the human psyche. Tony’s background may have guaranteed that he would become a blue-collar worker; it didn’t dictate whether or not he would be happy. An important relationship (mostly marriage), for many of these participates, has made the difference. Relationships and children have helped these individuals resolve conflicts, unrealized dreams, and anger over class issues. 28UP recognizes that individuals are restrained by many societal forces, but also affirms that they have the resilient ability to re-create themselves within a seven-year period of time.

Ronnie D. Lankford, Jr.


Michael Apted—Director/Producer
Steve Morris—Executive Producer
Oral Norrie—Editor
Ottey Horton—Editor
Kim Horton—Editor
George Jessie Turner—Cinematography
Claire Lewis—Research


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