Before she turned 20, Andrea Dunbar had her play “The Arbor” produced at London’s Royal Court Theatre. It was based on her childhood experiences growing up on a rough council estate in Bradford called Butterworth Arbor. The troubled Dunbar died of an embolism at the age of 29, leaving behind three plays and three children. Lorraine, Lisa and Andrew reflect on their upbringing and the paths their lives have taken.
Barnard’s daring, experimental first film flaunts documentary rules while achieving a high level of dramatic realism. Crafting her screenplay from audio recordings of Dunbar’s family, the British director uses actors lip-synching the dialogue and mixes in archival footage of the real Dunbar. It’s a striking technique that immediately absorbs the viewer into the lives on-screen. Scenes from Dunbar’s “The Arbor” are staged on the actual estate where little seems to have changed in 30 years. Somewhere between drama and documentary, this award-winning hybrid bends genres boldly and effectively.