Movie Review: 28 Up (1984)

Title: 28 Up
Release Date: 20 November 1984
Director: Michael Apted
Production Company: Granada Television

28 Up is the movie that Roger Ebert put on his ten favorite movies list. I’ve kind of dodged the issue by putting the entire series as one entry into my personal top ten, but 28 Up is definitely a landmark of the series.  All the participants have come into their own as adults in this entry and we’re beginning to see the ways that they’ve been molded by their childhood and how they’ve defied societal expectations.

Tony, the working class kid from the East End, has become quite prosperous as a London taxi driver.  When he was younger he wanted to be a jockey, a taxi driver, and an actor, and by 28 he has achieved all of those things.  The fact that he wasn’t a very successful jockey or that he only plays bit parts in TV shows doesn’t bother him as he’s achieved his goal, which I think is a good way of looking at life.  On the other end of the spectrum, Bruce, who has a child at a militaristic boarding school wanted to be a missionary, has instead become a socialist and now teaches at Tony’s old school in the East End.

Two of the wealthier boys, John and Charles, declined to participate in this movie (Charles will never return).  The remaining wealthy boy Andrew seems, maybe not humbled, but more grounded than in previous episodes and married to “a Yorkshire lass.” Suzy is also happily married and a parent after being completely cynical about those things in 21 Up.  In fact, many of the participants are married and interviews with the wives (and Suzy’s husband) give new perspectives to Britons of their generation.  I know that Tony’s wife Debbie practically becomes a participant in future films, but her first appearance here was actually less significant than I remembered.

Probably the biggest disappointment is that three of the four women – Jackie, Lynn, and Sue – are still being interviewed and profiled together.  Apted would receive a lot of criticism (including from the participants) for his sexist angle in portraying the working class women and it is fully deserved.  I know from later installments that all three of these women have fascinating insights so it’s disappointing that they don’t get an adequate share of time.

Finally there’s the issue of Neil, whose life story is among the most compelling.  In this film we see him living as an itinerant in rural Scotland, clearly suffering from mental illness and isolated from society.  Many viewers in 1984 feared that Neil would die or take his own life, but later films showed that Neil is full of surprises.

Rating: *****