Director Gave Class System 'a Kick Up the Backside'

Michael Apted said his 'Up' documentaries took 'a long view of English society'
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Jan 8, 2021 5:35 PM CST
Michael Apted's Up Film Series Followed Lives for Decades
Michael Apted arrives at a BAFTA Awards event in Los Angeles last year.   (Photo by Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP, File)

Michael Apted, the acclaimed British director of the Up documentaries series and films as diverse as the Loretta Lynn biopic Coal Miner's Daughter and the James Bond film The World Is Not Enough, has died. He was 79. No cause was given, the AP reports. An incredibly prolific director, Apted's legacy is perhaps most defined by the nine Up films, which followed the lives of 14 economically diverse British children from age 7 to 63. The project started in 1964 with Seven Up!—the brainchild of the late Canadian filmmaker Paul Almond. Apted served as a researcher on the first and, seven years later, took over as director and continued checking in with the subjects every seven years. The ambitious project earned him an Institutional Peabody Award in 2012 and had the honor of being satirized by The Simpsons in 2007. The last film, 63 Up, came out in 2019. "The series was an attempt to do a long view of English society," Apted told Slant Magazine in 2019. "The class system needed a kick up the backside." He had said he wanted to do a 70 Up.

Scholarships allowed Apted to study at Cambridge, where he counted John Cleese among his friends. He started in media with an apprenticeship at Granada Television, working on productions such as Coronation Street. He made his feature debut in 1972 on the Triple Echo with Oliver Reed and Glenda Jackson. In 1980, he came to the US to direct Coal Miner’s Daughter, a commercial and critical success that earned Sissy Spacek a best actress Oscar; Apted himself was never nominated for an Academy Award. He ended up moving to California after that and worked steadily in film and television for 40 years. Apted was actively involved in his own industry, having served as an Academy governor and as president of the Directors Guild of America from 2003 to 2009. Taylor Hackford, who succeeded Apted at the DGA, said in a statement that he was "the definition of 'mensch' – like the wonderful director he was, you could always count on him to deliver a clear and well thought-out point-of-view, usually leavened with a dollop of dry wit."

(Read more obituary stories.)

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