This new U.K. "drama/documentary" has more dramatic power than expected given its cinematic ingenuity.
An unconventional approach for an experiment like The Arbor might cause some perturbation for even discerning filmgoers, yet its alternative approach nature relates a compelling tale. Maybe it will inspire some cinematic auteurs to try to find a new recipe to be heard. Perhaps a little like what was done in Catfish, a kind of avant-garde social networking, if cautionary filmic experiment.
What unfolds through reality and reenactment, with archival footage, talking heads and on stage through its antecedent from teen playwright Andrea Dunbar (who died of an embolism at 29 and had her other play brought to the silver screen) exposing her life might appear a little too unrealistic. Especially with trained actors lip-syncing interviewers (from audio tracks with many, including living relatives) with subtitles needed to make up for strong regional accents.
In Bradford's Buttershaw Estate, a Yorkshire public-housing project, Andrea's difficult story is one influenced by heavy drinking, feeling the brunt of her father's many stupors. It lead to her own alcoholism and a sexually reckless existence.
One of her three children, all from different partners, the eldest being biracial Lorraine, couldn't forgive her mother's destructive ways. She turned out to be like her mother, fueled by heroin and prostitution.
Debuting director and writer Clio Barnard consistently locates an immediacy with overall clarity and focus to this daughter's perspective through an actress, Manjinder Virk. One also can't overlook the play's lead actress Natalie Gavin with more than an eerie likeness to the real Dunbar.
The title, which takes its name from the street where Andrea grew up, turns out to be something less heavy-handed and purposeful. Stranger than fiction, which it is in part, but could find resonance with another filmmaker inspired by a successful, yet traumatic British artist.