56 Up examines class hierarchy in England

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A documentary by Michael Apted. Unrated. Opens Friday, December 7, at the Vancity Theatre

In North America, class is something you cut, or try to acquire. But in England, it’s a hierarchical system that shows few signs of wasting away.

After an absorbing 143 minutes, that’s the takeaway from 56 Up, the eighth installment in the 7 Up series, launched in 1964. Although versatile Michael Apted handled all subsequent episodes, he was initially an assistant to Paul Almond, a Canadian who pitched the project to England’s ITV. Now 81, Almond is back onboard, at least nominally, as are most of the original participants. (The only absence now is that of Charles, who went on to be a documentary filmmaker. Make of that what you will.)

The show’s gender imbalance was confessed early on by Apted, who chose the original 14 seven-year-olds. Economic fluctuations have especially hammered the girls who started at the bottom. East Enders Jackie, Sue, and Lynn have exceeded all social expectations. Sue, for example, is the chief administrator of the law school at London University. And yet they—like Tony, the irrepressible Cockney who dreamed of being a jockey—have seen living wages decline since the Thatcher era, with all becoming vocally politicized.

Toffee-nosed aristocrats Andrew, Bruce, John, and Suzy have become more liberal, and their increased wealth has made that easy. In the middle, Paul has a mellow life in Australia; Nick is a successful physicist in the U.S.; the mentally troubled Neil is still drifting in Northern England; and Peter—a musician and teacher who resembles a gentler Willem Dafoe—has returned after dropping out when his earlier anti-Thatcher comments made him a public target. Mixed-race orphan Simon is still a forklift operator, but he and his second wife have fostered more than 60 at-risk kids. In fact, the emphasis here on following generations suggests many more Ups to come.


Watch the trailer for 56 Up.

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Class very much exists in North America but is only made aware to those in the upper echelons. Students at schools like Upper Canada College (mostly sons of old monied families) are expressly taught that they are the future leaders of the country, and not in a figurative wishy-washy feel good kind of way. As an example, if class didn't exist in Canada then the over-baked Justin Trudeau would not have a political career. Merit only gets you a job, class gets you a position. Exceptions are held up as carrots to the beleaguered servant and slave classes. The US is slightly more open but they still made W president. Money does not equal class. Money is irrelevant to the upper class. You have a glass ceiling, they have a glass floor. How else could Conrad Black be a bankrupt ex-con and still have his ass kissed. Sorry I meant LORD Black... ahem...
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