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Arnold, Andrea (1961-)

Director, Presenter

Main image of Arnold, Andrea (1961-)

After years working in children's television, Andrea Arnold came relatively late to directing, but her films instantly made ripples internationally, attracting enormous acclaim. Hard to pin down but often centred on female, working-class characters and marked by simple, unsettling images and intricate editing, their surface harshness is shot through with complexity and compassion.

The eldest of four children, she was born on 5 April 1961 in Dartford, Kent, where she grew up on a council estate of the sort that would form the setting for her own work; her parents, in their teens when she was born, separated while she was still a child. Leaving school at 18, she moved to London, where her taste, she recalls, was shaped by such contemporary films as Apocalypse Now (US, d. Francis Ford Coppola, 1979), Alien (US/UK, d. Ridley Scott, 1979), The Elephant Man (US, d. David Lynch, 1980) and Blood Simple (US, d. Joel Coen, 1984), although their influence on her work isn't easy to detect.

She joined the dance troupe Zoo, appearing on television shows that included Top of the Pops (BBC, 1964-2006), but came to prominence as an actress and presenter alongside Sandi Toksvig, Nick Staverson and Neil Buchanan in No. 73 (ITV, 1982-88), a children's show that blended chat, magazine items and comedy. She remained briefly on board when the programme was renamed 7T3 in 1988, then presented two other series: Motormouth (ITV, 1988-90) and A Beetle Called Derek (ITV, 1990-91), a show promoting environmental awareness in teenagers, some episodes of which Arnold also wrote.

In the 1990s, she spent a year studying at the American Film Institute in Los Angeles, then returned to England and had a daughter with her partner, a software engineer. Her first two shorts, Milk (1998) and Dog (2001), were both selected for Cannes and her third, Wasp (2003), about a single mother who leaves her four kids alone in a pub car-park to meet an old lover, won the Academy Award for Best Live Action Short.

She was then invited to join The Advance Party, a project instigated by the Danish director Lars von Trier to make three films by different first-time directors incorporating the same set of characters. Set in Glasgow, Arnold's contribution, Red Road (2006), followed Kate Dickie's solitary CCTV operator as she becomes obsessed with the man responsible for the death of her husband and child. Competing in Cannes, it won the Jury Prize. A second instalment in the trilogy, Donkeys (d. Morag McKinnon), followed in 2010.

Arnold returned south for Fish Tank (2009), about a combative 15-year-old (played by the electrifying newcomer Katie Jarvis) living on an Essex sink estate who dreams of escaping through her passion for dance, aided by her mother's likeable, highly ambiguous new boyfriend. It too won the Jury Prize in Cannes. She is currently planning an adaptation of Wuthering Heights; written by Olivia Hetreed, it will be the first time Arnold has not worked with her own screenplay.

Sheila Johnston

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Thumbnail image of No. 73 / 7T3 (1982-88)No. 73 / 7T3 (1982-88)

Children's Saturday morning series set in an eccentric boarding house

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