The Arbor


Written by Hannah Grantz
11 Monday 11th October 2010
Andrea Dunbar may have lived a successful and meaningful life as a playwright to some people’s standards, but not to those of her oldest daughter, Lorraine. Clio Barnard’s The Arbor, a mixture of interviews from real people in Dunbar’s life and re-enactments from her original play, also entitled The Arbor, will make it’s premier at the London Film Festival on 15 October. 
Andrea Dunbar started working on The Arbor when she was fifteen, eventually it opened in London in 1980. Other works by Dunbar include Rita, Sue and Bob Too, which was later turned into a film, and Shirley. Both were also based on real events from her life on the gritty Buttershaw Estate.
Told through actual stories from Andrea’s three children, Lorraine, Lisa, and Andrew, this documentary was filmed in the Buttershaw estate in Northern England, where they lived their whole life. The opening scenes show Lorraine and Lisa accidentally setting their room alight to keep warm after their alcoholic mom had locked them in for the night and removed the doorknob to ensure they would stay put. Years of physical and mental abuse was conducted by Andrea, whose sudden death in a pub at age 29 due to a brain hemorrage left the kids as orphans early on in life. 
Lorraine, who remembers her mom saying she didn’t love her as much as her other two children because she was biracial, being born to a Pakistani father, turned to heavy drug use and prostitution after Andrea’s death. Her addiction eventually lead to the death of her two-year-old son, Harris, when he ingested a small dose of Lorraine’s heroin substitute, Methadone.
Clio Barnard conducted interviews of everyone willing in Andrea’s life and used those interviews over the faces of actors lip-syncing to their every word. From children’s anger and depression to life-like scenes staged on the Buttershaw Estate, The Arbor presents a tragic story of a selfish parent’s direct effect on her family. Although the actors faces don’t entirely match up to a believable standard with the family’s voices, the emotion is there. From Lorraine’s scenes in prison speaking of her son’s death, Lisa’s struggle with both her mother and older sister’s dependency issues, and Andrew never really knowing anything real about his mother, you believe while sitting in the theatre that you’re right there with them in the housing estate.
The Arbor will be released to UK cinemas on 22 October.

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