Michael Apted Obituary | Movie

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Michael Apted, who died at the age of 79, was a director who moved easily between socially conscious documentaries and feature films with a particular focus on female achievement.

In the latter camp was Coal Miner’s Daughter (1980), for which Sissy Spacek won the Oscar for Best Actress for playing country and western singer Loretta Lynn, and Gorillas in the Mist (1988), with Sigourney Weaver in the role of assassinated environmentalist Dian Fossey. He also enjoyed commercial success with the James Bond film The World Is Not Enough (1999) and the CS Lewis adaptation The Chronicles of Narnia: the Voyage of the Dawn Treader (2010).

It had its deepest and most lasting impact, however, with the Up series of television documentaries chronicling the lives of 14 Britons in seven-year increments – “Stewards and Executives of the Future”, like the program, the idea original by Tim Hewat, originally said.

Seven Up! was released as part of the Social Affairs and Current Affairs section of Granada Television World In Action in 1964, while Apted was still a researcher. It was her job to help find a selection of seven-year-olds to interview on topics such as love, money, race, and desirability. The selection was largely white, masculine, London-centric, and coming from diametrically opposite ends of the social ladder, an imbalance that Apted regrets (“We really didn’t take enough care in choosing the children”) and corrected later in 7Up 2000, with a new generation of young people. It was one of several Up shoots (including alien incarnations) that he played a producing role on.

Michael Apted, left, filming 28 Up, 1984, with subjects Jackie, Lynn and Sue. He regretted having selected only four women out of 14 for the series. Photographie: ITV / Rex / Shutterstock

Seven Up! was intended to be punctual; It was only later that Apted and his colleagues began to follow children into adulthood. Paul Almond led the initial program before Apted took the reins of all subsequent installments, which he also featured. His final contribution was 63 Up (2019).

The hardest edition to make, he says, was the second, Seven Plus Seven, in 1970. “The material was appalling – as a teenager they wouldn’t say anything. Yet we began to realize the power of the idea; although the film was not very good, everyone was interested in it.

He befriends many of his subjects, leading him to reflect on the relationship between art and life. “You want dramatic things to happen to them to make the movie exciting,” he said in 1986. “On the other hand, how can you wish that? I’m not saying that I want one of them to fall dead, but I find myself thinking, “God, nobody has divorced yet, nobody has had serious grief,” which, in a grotesque way. , would make a wonderful film… so there is this horrible dilemma between the friendship part and the cinema part.

Although the Up films received international acclaim, winning the coveted Peabody Award in 2012, he mourned their biased portrayal of women. “The change that has taken place with women in the workplace and the place of women in society is the most important socio-political event in contemporary culture,” he said in 1995. “This m ‘missed. I only had four out of 14 wives, and all four settled into domestic life very quickly.

In his kind way, he pushed and challenged the trio of working class women on the show, who gave as well as they got. “I keep saying there’s a big world out there beyond going dancing and having babies and beer money,” Apted said, “and they just have a try at me on camera. A link has emerged between this gender bias and the growing attention paid to women in its substantive work.

Sigourney Weaver in Gorillas in the Mist, 1988, directed by Michael Apted.  Many of her feature films focused on female achievement.
Sigourney Weaver as environmentalist Dian Fossey in Gorillas in the Mist, 1988, directed by Michael Apted. Photographie: Allstar / Warner Bros / Sportsphoto Ltd

He was born in Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire, and raised in Ilford, Essex; his mother, Frances (née Thomas), stayed at home while his father, Ronald Apted, worked in insurance. He entered the City of London School on a scholarship before studying history and law at Downing College, Cambridge, where his contemporaries included John Cleese, Trevor Nunn and Stephen Frears.

He was accepted to a six-month Granada television training course in 1963, and remained with the company for the rest of the decade, directing numerous plays and programs.

It had a successful stint on Coronation Street when the popular soap opera was enjoying one of its golden times, with many scripts written by the wonderful Jack Rosenthal. Apted had the distinction of directing the episode that brought down a viaduct on the head of the dreaded Ena Sharples, who survived, mesh intact. “Forget the movie stars!” he later remarked. “Violet Carson [who played Ena] And Pat Phoenix [Elsie Tanner] were Britain’s greatest divas. It was a wonderful baptism, a fantastic training. Everything I learned about acting, I learned from Coronation Street.

Apted and Rosenthal have had other successful collaborations, including the sitcom The Lovers (1970) and a pair of wise and fun TV movies: Another Sunday and Sweet FA (1972) and P’Tang Yang Kipperbang (1982). Apted made his film debut with The Triple Echo (1972), starring Glenda Jackson and Oliver Reed, adapted from HE Bates’ story about a deserted soldier disguised as a woman.

With David Essex’s Stardust (1974) vehicle he tried to show the ugly side of glamor and stardom. In 1975 he started doing Trick Or Treat but the set fell apart after clashes with his star, Bianca Jagger, and the film was never finished. Warner Bros hated their oddly tender London gang thriller The Squeeze (1977) and refused to release it in the United States.

Apted himself was unhappy with Agatha (1979), a drama about the disappearance of Agatha Christie (Vanessa Redgrave), which he felt was off balance when Dustin Hoffman was hired in the project to improve his chances at the box. -office.

He was in the United States when Universal needed a director for Coal Miner’s Daughter after firing the original. Apted became familiar with the people of the Appalachian Mountains and their surroundings, and brought some documentary authenticity to the film. “Michael was the key to it all,” Spacek said. “I shudder at the idea of ​​what the movie would have been like without him.

Sissy Spacek in Coal Miner's Daughter, 1980, directed by Michael Apted.  Many of her feature films focused on female achievement.
Sissy Spacek in Coal Miner’s Daughter, 1980, directed by Michael Apted. Many of her feature films focused on female achievement. Photograph: Cinetext / Allstar / Universal

His decision to play the comedian John Belushi in a direct role in the love story Continental Divide (1981) was “a classic error in judgment,” but he was right in choosing Dennis Potter to adapt Gorky Park (1983), a Dark Russian thriller which Shot in Helsinki and Stockholm starring Lee Marvin and William Hurt.

The extent of his eclecticism can be measured by the smallest sample of his work: Bring on the Night (1985), a documentary on Sting; Richard Pryor’s comedy Critical Condition (1987); collective action in legal drama (1991); Thunderheart, a thriller about Native American oppression that came out of his documentary Incident at Oglala (both in 1992); Nell (1994), with Jodie Foster as a woman raised in the wild; and the code breaking drama Enigma (2001).

Recent work has included episodes of the television series Ray Donovan (2013-16) and Bloodline (2017), the latter reuniting him with Spacek. “I’m a magpie rather than a visionary,” he says. “Not much of what I do is about myself. I tend not to make personal films, which allows me to have a huge variety in my work.

He is survived by his third wife, Paige Simpson, and three children: his son James, from his first marriage to Jo Proctor (their eldest son, Paul, predeceased him in 2014); John, his son by his second wife, Dana Stevens; and her daughter, Lily, from a relationship with Tania Mellis.

• Michael Apted, director, born February 10, 1941; passed away on January 7, 2021

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