For the 49 years of Michael Apted's singular, amazing documentary series, he's returned every seven years to see what's happened to the British children first filmed on a single day in the early 1960s: half were poor, blue-collar East Londoners, the other half children of privilege with Oxford and Cambridge probably in their future. At 56, they are often where they were at 49, though a little pudgier, more settled down, and definitely less ambitious. It's almost always about family, family, family, and how their kids and grandkids are doing, whether those on camera are smugly rich or just getting by. In general, the working-class participants are livelier on-camera presences, perhaps because they still struggle each day to stay solvent.
Several of the moneyed males, who have no economic worries, really have turned into boorish and bloodless souls. An oddity this time: one bloke, Peter, who dropped out of the series after 28 Up, is back. His admitted reason: to push a folky CD featuring himself and his spouse. 56 Up is still moving and philosophic, though not as exciting as earlier episodes, which had more drama. Only one character seems angrier and more pessimistic than last time: the always-troubled Neil, who, despite new employment as a lay clergy, rails against the failures of mankind and his own inability to change the world for the good.