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What you need to know about COVID-19: August 13, 2020
When 63 Up had its North American premiere at the Telluride festival this year, 78-year-old director Michael Apted said he’d be happy with this chapter in the long-running documentary series being the last. But even if Apted isn’t up to making another one in 2026, it’s hard to imagine anyone else letting the franchise end before all its participants do.
For the uninitiated, 63 Up is the latest in a series that kicked off in 1964 by following a group of seven-year-old Britons from a variety of social backgrounds, stopping in every seven years to see how they’re doing. Its unofficial maxim, borrowed from the Jesuits — “Give me a child until he is seven and I will give you the man” — has proven remarkably prescient, although there may be a bit of judicious editing to make the point clear.
Still, as William “Nick” Hitchon says: “I’m still the same little kid, really. I think all of us probably are.” The curious child from rural Yorkshire grew up to become a nuclear physicist and teacher — he was drawn to work on nuclear fusion after reading a book about pollution when he was 13.
Nick is battling cancer now, and 63 Up marks the first chapter in which one of the main participants has died; Lynn Johnson passed away in 2013, not long after 56 Up was made. In fact, if there is a common theme running through the two hours and 24 minutes of this doc, it is mortality — several participants have lost parents, and all are considering retirement and senescent health.
The film focuses more closely on home and hearth than larger questions of geopolitics. Donald Trump comes up in conversation, as does the Brexit debate — cab driver Tony Walker says he was a leaver but is having second thoughts and won’t vote Tory ever again — but for the most part Apted steers his subjects into reminiscing about past relationships, children and careers.
Most of them admit that they don’t much enjoy the periodic check-in, any more than you do the one with the doctor. Suzanne Lusk is absent for the first time, while Peter Davies makes his second appearance after going AWOL for 21 years; he admitted in 56 Up that he only came back to promote his music career.
If you’re coming to the series cold, there’s enough filmed background to get you up to speed. (Apted, who was a researcher on Seven Up! in 1964, has directed every episode since.) And if you’ve become hooked at some point over the years, 63 Up makes for essential viewing. Here’s hoping 70 Up happens, come what may.
63 Up opens Dec. 13 in Montreal and Dec. 20 in Toronto and Vancouver, with other cities to follow.
Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2019