Michael Apted, who died last Thursday at the age of 79, was an artisan filmmaker who started out in England and ended up in Hollywood. As documentary filmmaker, he’s made films about Sting and the Tiananmen square protest. He later would go on to shoot fantasy sagas. He gravitated towards socially-aware subjects and strong female characters, especially during his television directing days, a period during which he began the documentary “Up,” the opus he became best known for.
Every seven years Apted chronicled the lives of fourteen Brits, starting from their childhood in the early sixties all the way to present day. With this ancestor of Richard Linklater’s “Boyhood” Apted was intent on showing class determinism in England by selecting people who came from opposing social backgrounds, some well-off, others more working-class. Note the lack of a cliffhanger: everyone stays in their lane, not much happens at all in the way of class porosity.
Apted would carry on with the experiment, as reliably as one could hope for, until 2019, when the participants were sixty-three years old and the sociological pitch of the film flattened into a meditation on time. Apted was just as honest about the prejudices of British society as he was where regards his own: “I wanted to make a nasty piece of work about these kids who have it all, and these other kids who have nothing.”
The participants of the “Up” series would later criticize him on screen for underestimating their capacities and intelligence.
Apted distinguished himself on the big screen by filming “Agatha” (1979) a portrait of Agatha Christie during her mysterious disappearance for eleven days in 1926, never really elucidated, 1983’s “Gorky Park,” starring William Hurt and Bryan Dennehy, “Gorillas in the Mist,” about Dian Fossey and her mountain gorillas, among others.
More recently he directed a film from “The Chronicles of Narnia” series. In 1999 came the consecration, perhaps, for a British filmmaker: Apted directed a James Bond franchise, “The World is not Enough,” starring Pierce Brosnan and Sophie Marceau.
His final feature, the spy film “Unlocked” (2017), stars Swedish actress Noomi Rapace as a CIA agent.
Apted once said, “there aren’t many pieces of work, especially in film, that have the patience or the longevity or the time to honor the drama of ordinary life; and after all, the drama of what we all have to go through–children, jobs, marriage, the things that touch us–is the big drama of life, far more so than the drama of movies and television.”