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United Kingdom 2010
Directed by
Clio Barnard
94 minutes
Rated MA

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
4 stars

The Arbor

Clio Barnard's exceptional documentary tells the story of  working-class playwright Andrea Dunbar and her daughter Lorraine, the eldest of three children Dunbar had with different fathers. A denizen of a characteristically derelict estate in Bradford in West Yorkshire, Dunbar who drew on her life experience for her kitchen sink plays The Arbor and Rita, Sue and Bob Too! died of a brain haemorrhage in 1990, largely due to her heavy drinking. Her daughter, Lorraine, despite her mother’s brief literary success was a typical victim of her environment. Her father was a Pakistani, which not only made her the target of racism but even her own mother professed to care for her less than her two siblings. She became a drug addict, supporting her habit by prostitution and was jailed for manslaughter after her two-year-old addict son died from ingesting her methadone. Whether he did this himself or his mother in a drug-induced haze gave it to him is unknown.

These two people’s lives are reconstructed from a couple of TV documentaries about Dunbar, extracts from The Arbor performed on the grounds of the estate on which Dunbar lived, and a group of actors (one of them George Costigan, who played Bob in Rita, Sue and Bob Too!, 1988) who faultlessly lip-synch to tape-recordings by the real members and friends of the Dunbar family who recall the events concerned. This multi-faceted approach gives Barnard's documentary a level of interest over and above its story and eminently suits the blending of fact  and fiction that characterises Dunbar's plays  Both in terms of its subject matter and its realization The Arbor is a remarkable and fascinating work, albeit one imbued with tragedy.




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