A Film for February: The Arbor

ArborBleak, bleak, bleak but compelling. Directed by Clio Barnard in 2010 this is a film about the dramatist and author Andrea Dunbar (1961-1990), who wrote plays The Arbor and Rita, Sue and Bob Too. Dunbar came from Bradford’s tough Buttershaw housing estate and a street know as the Arbor. Her life ended in a brain haemorrhage bought on by alcoholism when she was 29, a scene straight from one of her own plays. The second half focuses on Dunbar’s eldest child Lorraine (Manjinder Virk) and her tragic story of parental neglect, racism, domestic violence and finding her refuge in drugs.

In making this documentary-of-sorts, Clio Barnard interviewed Dunbar’s family, friends, neighbours and grown up children and then has actors lip-synch to the audio soundtrack of their memories. The effect of this is powerful; rather than allowing the re-enactments to be sensationalised it is the ordinariness of these experiences that is emphasised.

The reminiscences are interspersed with scenes from her plays being performed in anarbor2 open space on the estate and T.V. footage of Dunbar being interviewed in the 1980’s. This collage of documentary and dramatic techniques is an inventive and effective way of creating a biopic, blurring fact and fiction, piecing together different versions of the truth that altogether create a compelling and harrowing image of Dunbar’s life and legacy.


7 thoughts on “A Film for February: The Arbor

      1. I’ve just looked it up. It was called Rita, Sue and Andrea too. It was on BBC radio 4, last summer, but is no longer available to ‘listen again’. Some dramas do get rerun on BBC radio 4 extra, but I don’t know how you’d find out, other than periodically running a search…Oh, written and directed by Sean Grundy.

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  1. I recall this film having a big impact on me when I first saw it at the time of its release. As you say, it’s the matter-of-fact nature of the experiences that make them feel all the more powerful. If you’re ever looking to explore more of Barnard’s work, I would strongly recommend The Selfish Giant, a contemporary retelling of Oscar Wilde’s fable.

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