The Arbor (2010)

42.

★★★★★

Directed by: Clio Barnard
Starring: Manjinder Virk, Christine Bottomley and Natalie Gavin

The Arbor opens with a statement that lets its audience know that this is a true story. Everything has been derived from conducted interviews, but actors in the film lip-synch their answers. From the very beginning, The Arbor has our attention.

Dysfunctional families out in the open.

In Bradford, West Yorkshire, England, a young woman entered her play into a Young Playwrights Competition, written in green ink in a rather unimpressive student notebook. The play, however, stood out for its deeply felt observations and representations of life on Bradford Arbor – an estate where its inhabitants are judged to be “white trash.” The writer was Andrea Dunbar. As the success of the play placed Andrea in the media, and consequently led to a screenwriting job for Rita, Sue, and Bob Too, Andrea had her personal life and experiences performed for all the world to see.

The Arbor is a documentary that performs its interview findings on Andrea Dunbar’s life and the influence she had on the lives of her children and other family members. With an acute understanding of stage performance and its transference to the screen, The Arbor harnesses the power of theater to show scenes from Dunbar’s play, re-imagine the experiences of her children and how both external and internal influences affect the choices and lives of people like Andrea. Rather than simply focus on the life of the playwright, however, The Arbor uses streams of other lives, particularly that of Andrea’s daughter Lorraine, to inform the audience about the significant impact and unstoppable course of events that developed after her death.

Imaginative, intensely engaging and dramatically exciting, The Arbor brings theatrical qualities to the screen with confidence and a powerful approach to storytelling and documentary filmmaking that is unique and original.

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