Don’t read this posting. Go straight to iview instead and watch this movie/documentary before 1.58 a.m. on November 3, 2016 while it’s still available. It’s one of the most powerful pieces of cinema that I’ve seen in years.
I hadn’t heard of Andrea Dunbar. She was a young British writer who followed the adage ‘write what you know’. What she knew was the wasteland of a Bradford housing estate in Thatcher’s Britain of the 1980s, where the eponymous Brafferton Arbor was a bleak patch of blighted grass, surrounded by terraced public housing with boarded windows. Her first play was performed at the Royal Court Theatre in London when she was a 20 year old single mother, and her follow-up Rita Sue and Bob Too was developed as a film in 1987. She was dead by 1990 at the age of 29, leaving three children by three different fathers.
This film is based on interviews with the family, most particularly her two daughters, conducted by the filmmaker Clio Barnard. The oral interviews have been lip-synced by actors. I only learned this later, and spent most of the movie, transfixed, wondering whether I was watching a movie or a documentary. It was only when I recognized the actor who plays Inspector Barnaby in the new Midsomer Murders, and marvelling at his accent, that I realized that it wasn’t a documentary. It is interspersed with documentary footage from the 1980s of Andrea Dunbar, and a performance in 2010 of her play ‘The Arbor’ on the estate itself, watched by the current residents. I was amused that this extract from the film had subtitles: I found myself craving them on several occasions:
It is a very dark film about intergenerational poverty and harm. Her two daughters have diametrically opposed views of their mother, and it’s so easy to judge. Absolutely brilliant.