Friday 3 February 2012


Using interviews and dramatic reconstruction to tell the astonishing true story of Joyce Vincent, a woman whose body remained undiscovered in her flat for 3 years, the documentary Dreams of A Life is now in cinemas. Watch the trailer and read my review, next...

The story of Joyce Vincent's death is remarkable and truly sad. Passing away whilst wrapping Christmas presents in late 2003, she lay in her flat for three years until bailiffs broke down her door to find her remains. Thanks to the ghastly state she was found in little is known about the actual cause of her death, but after reading the story in the newspapers director Carol Morley made it her mission to uncover what had happened in Joyce's life to leave her so alone in her dying moments. After experiencing such a cruel and futile death, the film is devoted to finding meaning to her life which, given the evidence, was far from ordinary.

As the clean-up crew pick through her belongings, so do her former friends (found via newspaper ads, taxi advertisements and Friends Reunited) pick through her past. Every one of them an unreliable narrator, they're sharing their viewpoint of Joyce's life, not necessarily the truth. Some friends provide cod psychology and pass judgement on periods of her life they weren't privy to, often because they hadn't even met Joyce yet, willing to add their two cents without qualification.

Director Morley is guilty of this to, making some dangerous accusations about Vincent's childhood without offering any proof. Morley has also taken the curious step of not identifying her interviewees when on camera, causing some confusion about their relevance until we reach the point in Joyce's life that they actually knew her. I found myself questioning why some of these people wanted to go on camera and talk about Joyce, some wanting to celebrate her life and other for more self serving reasons; clearing themselves from guilt, for example. Martin, the one man who could lay claim to being the love of Joyce's life, earns the most sympathy, full of regrets over what could have been.

The lack of her family's viewpoint leaves the story incomplete. Despite the implications that her four sisters hadn't looked for her, they may well have tried to contact Joyce during that time without any luck, but without their testaments we don't know the truth. It's totally comprehensible that being aloof was part of Joyce's character, and they expected her to reappear in their lives at any time.

The dramatic reconstructions featuring Zawe Ashton work in creating a believable and sympathetic vision of Joyce. Ashton's performance along with Morley's direction is definitely editorialising Joyce's last few hours, but do add weight to the tragedy. When Joyce sings in front of her mirror, it's hard not to feel sympathy for what might have in. This was a woman with real hopes, aspirations and dreams of a better life and for whatever reason, wasn't able to fulfill them. Actual footage and recordings of Joyce singing do exist and are used in the film, but sparingly enough that their appearances have a real power.

The tragic nature of her demise will have you rattling through your head all the people who could have found her sooner; landlord, neighbours, the council, family and friends. The sad fact is that none of them could have saved her life, but perhaps allowed her to retain more dignity. For all of the film's posturing as a document of 21st century disconnection and societies failings, the actual story of Joyce doesn't always back that up.

A victim of cruel coincidences, the poster asks the question "would anyone miss you?" and despite being unfound for three years, the testimony of the people that knew her proves that Joyce was, and still is, missed. Despite some flaws, Carol Morley has created a powerful and often moving film that carries real emotional weight, successful in making sure that Joyce Vincent's life is one that deserves to be remembered.


1 comment:

  1. I've read/heard so much about this recently - the story just sounds incredibly tragic and it's nice to hear again that the film does some justice to it. Will look to pick it up on DVD at some point