The Arbor Review
By Rich Cline
With this bracingly original debut feature, artist Barnard creates one of the most involving and moving documentaries in memory. Stylistically mixing filmmaking approaches, she engulfs us in a fiercely inventive movie experience.
Andrea Dunbar wrote her first play, The Arbor, at age 15. Named after the street where she grew up in Bradford's rough Buttershaw Estate, it was a national sensation, leading to her second play Rita, Sue and Bob Too, which was adapted into an Alan Clarke film. But Andrea's life didn't get much better, with a string of rocky relationships, three children from three men and a terrible alcohol problem. And her snappy, astute writing came to an end at only age 29 when she died of an embolism.
Barnard reveals this story in several visceral ways. First, she interviews Dunbar's friends and family, then uses actors (some with connections to Dunbar's work) to lip-sync to the real audio tracks, blurring fact and fiction and drawing us into the events with startling resonance. She also re-enacts jinglingly witty scenes from The Arbor on Brafferton Arbor itself, with residents gathering to watch the actors. And finally there's archive material of Dunbar herself, which blends with The Arbor as the lead actress (Gavin) looks eerily like Dunbar and is essentially playing out scenes from Dunbar's life.
These elements are expertly filmed and woven together to thoughtfully and frankly explore the legacy of life on a poor housing estate, from the poverty and alcohol of the 70s to drugs and prostitution in the 90s. The strongest focus here is Dunbar's eldest daughter Lorraine (Virk), a mixed-race child who had a very different life than her two all-white siblings. As we follow her complex, difficult story, we see Andrea's own life in striking clarity.
It's rare to find a filmmaking voice as strong as Barnard; Steve McQueen's Hunger is the only comparison for its immersive cinematic ingenuity. Not only is the story compelling and important, but the direction and editing are sharp and revelatory. There's also the real sense that this pure talent, which emerged briefly from the most unlikely of places, was taken away too soon. And that there perhaps have been thousands of others like Dunbar who have never had a chance.
Facts and Figures
In Theaters: Sunday 25th April 2010
Box Office Worldwide: $21.3 thousand
Distributed by: Strand Releasing
Production compaines: Artangel Media
Rotten Tomatoes: 95%
Fresh: 42 Rotten: 2
Cast & Crew
Producer: Tracy O'Riordan
Screenwriter: Clio Barnard
Starring: Kate Rutter as The Mother, Christine Bottomley as Lisa Thompson, George Costigan as Jimmy 'The Wig', Monica Dolan as Ann, Neil Dudgeon as Steve, Manjinder Virk as Lorraine Dunbar, Natalie Gavin as The Girl, Parvani Lingiah as Young Lorraine Dunbar, Danny Webb as Max Stafford-Clark / The Father, Liam Price as Billy, Robert Haythorne as Fred