Today: February 28, 2024

Arbor, The

Unique, moving documentary about British playwright Andrea Dunbar

Director Clio Barnard’s The Arbor, opens with the message ‘this is a
true story, filmed with actors lip-synching to the voices of the people
whose story it tells’, the story being that of Dunbar, told by her
family and friends.

Barnard, winner of The Best New Documentary Film Maker at the
Tribecca Film Festival earlier this year, recorded audio interviews with
Lorraine Dunbar (Andrea’s eldest daughter), other members of the Dunbar
family and residents from the Buttershaw Estate over a period of two
years. These interviews were edited to form an audio ‘screenplay,’
which forms the basis of the film as actors lip-synch to the voices of the interviewees.
This footage was cleverly intercut with extensive archive clips as well
as extracts from Andrea’s first stage play, The Arbor, filmed as a live
outdoor performance on the Buttershaw Estate, to an audience of its

Best known for cult classic Rita, Sue and Bob Too! (1986), directed by Alan Clarke,
the only one of her plays to make it to the screen, Dunbar’s own story
is a bleak one. She wrote honestly and unflinchingly about her
upbringing on the Buttershaw Estate and was hailed as ‘a genius straight
from the slums’ by playwright Shelagh Delaney.

Dying at the age of 29, after yet another drinking binge, she left
behind three children, by three different fathers, one of which,
Lorraine (excellently performed by Manjinder Virk) who does not remember her mother in the glowing light as the others. She attributes her disastrous life of prostitution, drugs which eventually led to the death of one of her own offspring, to her miserable childhood as a half Pakistani living on a racist estate.

Lorraine’s take on events is the central core of the film, amongst
the family, friends and neighbours who are interviewed. Also, now aged
29 and ostracised from her mother’s family and in prison undergoing
rehab, the film follows Lorraine’s personal journey as she reflects on
her own life and begins to understand the struggles her mother faced.
Through interviews with other members of the Dunbar family, we see a
contrasting view of Andrea, in particular from Lorraine’s younger sister
Lisa, who idolises Andrea (Bottomley) to this day.

Fine performances from a strong cast, look out for George Costigan,
who starred in Rita, Sue and Bob Too!, who appears as Jimmy ‘The Wig’,
one of Andrea’s boyfriends.

Certainly one of the most orginal documentaries you will probably ever see.

Marcia Degia - Publisher

Marcia Degia, who has worked in the media industry for more than 20 years, is the Publishing Editor of KOL Social Magazine. See website:

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