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The Arbor

Released Apr 27, 2011 1h 34m Drama List
96% Tomatometer 47 Reviews 74% Audience Score 1,000+ Ratings
A mix of documentary and fictional elements tells the story of doomed playwright Andrea Dunbar, who wrote about the difficult life she endured growing up in England's Bradford housing projects. Archival footage featuring Dunbar is presented, along with interviews with family members, including her daughter, Lorraine, who led a similarly troubled life. Excerpts from Dunbar's most famous play, "The Arbor," are performed on the streets of her hometown and at Buttershaw Estates, where she lived. Read More Read Less

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The Arbor

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The Arbor

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Critics Consensus

Smart and inventive, The Arbor offers some intensely memorable twists on tired documentary tropes.

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Critics Reviews

View All (47) Critics Reviews
Nicolas Rapold Film Comment Magazine What emerges is a curious mix of avant-garde technique and social-realist case study, equally indebted to Barnard's art-world-video background and Dunbar's own close-to-the-bone writing. Jun 28, 2013 Full Review Eric Kohn indieWire Documentaries often toy with the conventions of non-fiction storytelling to the detriment of their content, but Clio Barnard's innovative The Arbor provides a welcome exception to the norm. Rated: A Jan 5, 2012 Full Review Ronnie Scheib Variety Numerous celluloid experiments have fudged reality and fiction lately, but few are as formally inventive or socially revelatory as The Arbor. Jan 5, 2012 Full Review Savina Petkova A Good Movie To Watch Such a conceit could easily turn gimmicky, but in the case of The Arbor, the chasm between performance, recital, and lived reality (retold), can fit a whole world. Rated: 79/100 Nov 24, 2023 Full Review Roe McDermott Hot Press Though The Arbor is hard to watch, it's even harder to define, but it's clear that this is Andrea, this is England, and this is extraordinary. Rated: 4/5 Mar 11, 2016 Full Review Martin Tsai Critic's Notebook Ms. Barnard illustrates in heartbreaking fashion how the cycle of familial neglect, low self-esteem and self destruction completely ruined lives that were once so full of promise. Oct 7, 2015 Full Review Read all reviews

Audience Reviews

View All (73) audience reviews
Shock Therapy R I enjoyed the novelty of the playwright form and the voice over method of the actors. Yet the story required the patience of any caseworker filling in the narrative of yet another human disaster. As an outside observer, the film maker did not develop empathy for its real-life character depictions. The fact that the real-life person was famous and profited from her work during her lifetime, further diminishes the empathy for a celebrity-gone-bad and it's wake. This movie is about as sensible and as an instructive of the average dialogue expected from the affected other of adversity, without any true self-awareness, lessons learned, or even a clue for why things ended as badly as they did. In other words, this story really just amounts to another statistic, albeit documented due to celebrity, in the evil scheme of meaningless life, and then loss. Rated 0.5 out of 5 stars 12/04/22 Full Review Audience Member Innovative and brilliantly done. The actors lip-synching were excellent. It's not a happy tale but very moving and sad. It's the real sequel to Rita, Sue and Bob too you could say. Rated 5 out of 5 stars 02/19/23 Full Review Audience Member I was interested to see what would be the effect of actors lip-syncing to real interviews. The answer? Not that much really. Not sure the film-makers used the technique to its full potential, so you still felt like an unalloyed voyeur on misery. The excerpts from the plays, performed on the estate with everyone watching, were very effective though. Rated 3 out of 5 stars 02/19/23 Full Review Audience Member Interesting, though it does border on prevention from time to time. Rated 3 out of 5 stars 01/29/23 Full Review Audience Member The Arbor is a emi-documentary with lip-syncing actors over real voices, scenes played out on a council estate, and news clips about the life and times of Andrea Dunbar, a "genius from the slums" and author of THE ARBOR and RITA, SUE & BOB TOO. She wrote her first play, which was performed at the Royal Court Theatre London, when she was just 15, and she died at 29 in the local pub, leaving behind three children from three diferent different fathers to grow up as best they coucld (and in the case of one, this was not very well at all.) Unusal, compelling, tragic, depressing, tedious, and not for everyone, but very interesting. Rated 3.5 out of 5 stars 02/16/23 Full Review Audience Member I had never heard of Andrea Dunbar, the playwright and subject of The Arbor, before watching this film. Dunbar's own tragic life was one that saw her gain recognition for her art early in her writing career, and then struggle with heavy alcohol use and violence until her eventual death. She wrote three plays before she died, the first of which the film takes its title from. But director Clio Barnard's interest in Dunbar's story is not in her career, at least, not on the surface, but on her relationships with her children. And that story is a devastatingly sad account of a cycle of parental neglect. Barnard focuses on the relationship between Dunbar and her eldest daughter, Lorraine, who was only ten when Dunbar died at the age of 29. The film explores specifically the similarities between the two women's lives, and more generally, the cyclical nature of family violence and addiction. For that alone it is a fascinating and insightful film, if often tough to stomach. But one can't talk about this psuedo-documentary without commenting on the style. Barnard's interesting experiment involves shooting actors lip-syncing to the narrations of documentary interviews with Dunbar's family and community. Some may find the exercise distracting, or feel that it takes away from the subject matter, but given that the subject of the film was a playwright, it gives the entire execution a sort of metafilmic quality in that Dunbar's life is effectively turned into a play inside this documentary. Rated 4 out of 5 stars 02/27/23 Full Review Read all reviews
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Movie Info

Synopsis A mix of documentary and fictional elements tells the story of doomed playwright Andrea Dunbar, who wrote about the difficult life she endured growing up in England's Bradford housing projects. Archival footage featuring Dunbar is presented, along with interviews with family members, including her daughter, Lorraine, who led a similarly troubled life. Excerpts from Dunbar's most famous play, "The Arbor," are performed on the streets of her hometown and at Buttershaw Estates, where she lived.
Director
Clio Barnard
Producer
Tracy O'Riordan
Distributor
Strand Releasing
Genre
Drama
Original Language
English
Release Date (Theaters)
Apr 27, 2011, Limited
Release Date (Streaming)
Feb 18, 2016
Box Office (Gross USA)
$21.3K
Runtime
1h 34m
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