British playwright Andrea Dunbar was only 18 when The Arbor
, her blunt account of life in a squalid council estate, premiered at London's Royal Court Theatre in 1980; by age 29 she was dead of a cerebral hemorrhage, leaving behind three completed works and three children by three different men. This daring film by Clio Barnard revisits Dunbar's sad life and the even sadder life of her eldest daughter, Lorraine, dissolving the line between the stage and the real world just as the playwright tried to do. Domestic interior scenes from the eponymous play are staged outdoors at the Buttershaw estate where Dunbar lived, with residents looking on from the sidelines; and in the movie's most audacious gambit, actors lip-sync audio interviews recorded with the actual people in Dunbar's life. The resulting film is harshly, almost unbearably tragic, but it's also a startling paradox, impressively layered even as it strips the situations down to their naked truth.