Who is the happiest of them all?

October 16, 1991

35 Up
Directed by Michael Apted
Valhalla, Sydney and Melbourne
Reviewed by Ulrike Erhardt

35 Up is not a drink commercial but a human interest saga which started in 1963 when Michael Apted joined a program called Seven Up — an attempt to document on film the lives, hopes and opinions of 14 English seven-year-olds, coming from different social backgrounds. Apted reinterviewed these individuals each seven years. 35 Up is the result of the fifth set of interviews.

Apted boasted: "Show me a boy at seven and I give you the man", (which Apted didn't mean literally and included women in the program). He proved his theory with frightening accuracy — with one exception, Neil.

Neil was a bright and observant seven-year-old but at 35 is a depressed and bitter social dropout. While my friends thought this served him right, I congratulated him for saying no to a society which stressed him too much.

But Neil is not the only one who has to pay a price for being himself. There is the highest achiever in the program, a country boy who always wanted to have something to do with the moon and is now a nuclear physicist. To fulfil his potential, he had to migrate to the USA, where he feels lost.

The three upper-class snobs, John, Andrew and Charles, haven't changed a bit. As they predicted, they are now sitting smart in their country estates, having obtained the well-paid positions they expected. Their wives don't say much and I wondered if they married them for ornamental reasons.

The East End trio, Jackie, Lynn and Susan, are still sitting on the sofa in the same order they occupied at seven and have achieved their aim of having babies. But two of them have had to raise their children on their own, forcing them to put all their other aspirations on the back burner.

Tony, the boy who wanted to be a jockey, is a cabbie. He and his wife do a great double act: he as the chauvinist and she as his dutiful servant. Then there is Lynn the librarian, who married a postie, and who may have a brain tumour. And so it goes on with 14 lives.

I look forward to 42 Up when Apted once again puts the age-old question: "Mirror, Mirror, on the wall, who is the happiest of them all?"

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