And suddenly it’s gone. This wonderful feast of television, with us for an hour a night, over three spell-binding nights, and now we have to wait another seven years for it to come round again. It’s not fair. but we should be grateful, because there’s nothing quite like it.
You sympathise with the subjects, and the onrunning internal debate about “Can I really stand to do this again?” We might well refuse for ourselves, but we don’t want them to, because it’s just such a rivetting watch. The editing is stunning, taking you seamlessly back over these staging points of lives, so that we kids ourselves that we know these people, where in fact we’ve just had very brief glimpses.
But what glimpses. who’d have guessed that two Barnardo’s boys in adjacent beds would end up with warm links between their families, undertaking regular visits between here and Australia. Or that a plummy, superior young man with a posh accent would turn out to have a very soft spot for Bulgaria, and would put in hours of work to support people without his advantages? We age, they age, and it’s hugely comforting to do it together.
The original narrow "social class aspect has withered, rightly, but what stands out over time is the gender-based insensitivity of some of Apted’s earlier questioning. Rightly, some of the women challenge him on his nosiness about boyfriends, his assumption that family and children would be the limit of their horizons - but they know him well enough to do that, and he knows it’s good TV so it stays in. we’re all getting old, and some of them are dying off, but while it lasts we’re lucky to have it.