This series is the "War and Peace" of reality TV. Beginning in 1964, England's Granada Television interviewed a dozen 7-year-olds, some privileged, some disadvantaged. The "Seven Up" project has reinterviewed participants every seven years since, winning glowing accolades and devoted fans who have followed the group through adolescence, marriage, children and now grandchildren. Is this seventh installment juicy enough to captivate those who come to it fresh? Not really, but director Michael Apted gives it a respectable shot.
"49 Up" finds its participants snugly docked in the calm harbor of middle age after the rough seas of youth. At times, "49 Up" feels like a stack of those Christmas letters that condense a year of upheaval and transition, good luck and bad breaks into a single banal page. There are some clear themes to these zig-zagging life journeys, but they tend to be truisms (marriage is hard work but worth it) rather than chest-clutching surprises.
Excerpts from the earlier films show the kids' poignant daydreams about the future, love, money and family; now they're models of polite British reserve. If you hope for conflict, confession and catharsis, you'll leave feeling shortchanged, as the subjects are more willing to discuss quarrels over kitchen tile patterns than dashed dreams and hinted-at infidelities. I found myself pondering the same question facing everyone approaching their half-century: "Is that it?" Then again, maybe that's the point.