Staff Recommendations: The Arbor

Cornerhouse Programme & Engagement Director Sarah Perks reviews The Arbor

The Arbor was released at a busy time late last October. Since then I’ve had many conversations about how its the best British debut film for some time, and just as many people claiming they missed it! It was slightly too experimental for mainstream awards but has quietly clocked up some impressive accolades including two at last year’s London Film Festival and The Guardian First Film Award. It tells the uncompromising story of young playwright Andrea Dunbar who wrote the seminal Rita, Sue and Bob Too, itself inspired by her own experiences on a rough estate in Bradford.

The film utilises innovative yet accessible techniques such as the actors lip-synching to interviews by Dunbar’s children and acquaintances, a device that surprising aids emotional attachment and depth. The Arbor also walks the line between documentary and drama, creating an unconventional yet firmly cinematic experience. I’m especially delighted to also welcome Clio Barnard in person for a post-screening Q&A.

Cornerhouse Usher Hannah Dalby reviews The Arbor

The Arbor is a compelling but disturbing film which looks at the life of Andrea Dunbar, a playwright who lived on the notorious Buttershaw estate in Bradford.

The film uses a variety of techniques to tell its story: actors lip-synch over interviews taken from Dunbar’s friends and family, archival footage is used, and extracts of Andrea Dunbar’s seminal plays are performed in the estate where the playwright lived.  

These different ways of telling Dunbar’s story seamlessly interweave to create an accomplished, coherent whole. The actors who lip-synch have to be given credit as this is a tough gig for any performer. The scenes shot on the Butterworth estate acknowledge that great British tradition of observing the soap-opera of other people’s lives unfold – which is of course a feature of Andrea Dunbar’s plays.

The Arbor is extremely moving, especially in its focus on Lorraine Dunbar, Andrea’s troubled daughter who had suffered similar problems in life as her mother. The film also had a more lasting effect, especially in light of the current recession, as it made me consider the crippling legacy that social problems can have on a community. The Arbor is an excellent film which makes you question just how much choice some people have.