It’s a heartbreaking story: a young, beautiful woman, with both friends and a family, dying alone in tragic circumstances. Surrounded by half wrapped presents, her body is left in a tiny bedsit for almost three years, slowly melting into the carpet whilst in the same block people go about their daily business. With the television still on and pots still in the sink, the body was so decomposed when found that coroners could not find a cause of death. It all sounds like something thought up in a detective novel, right?
But this is a reality. Dreams Of A Life is a new documentary that portrays the life and death of Joyce Vincent, a thirty-eight year old woman whose skeleton was found in 2006 in a London bedsit. On seeing the news report on Joyce’s death in the paper, director Carol Morley was intrigued by the story. Morley turned detective for the next five years, placing ads begging for information and even advertising on black cabs. Finally, she was able to piece together Joyce’s life through contact with friends and family of the once bubbly and carefree woman, and has created a piece of cinema that is a well thought out and delicate portrayal of a life forgotten.
Dreams Of A Lifeintersperses reenactments of Joyce’s life with talking heads of her friends, allowing the audience to get both a feel of Joyce’s personality from the perspective of others and imagine the transformation from happy-go-lucky woman, living on the periphery of the London music scene to an isolated woman who could slip from people’s lives so easily. The talking heads often give wildly differing views of Joyce and at one point, when listening to a soundbite of her voice, some state that it sounds nothing like her and some that it does. This is a resonating theme throughout the film, we are as unsure as it seems Joyce herself was about herself; she seems to have offered different sides of her personality to different people.
Zawe Ashton, who plays Joyce in her adult years during the reenactments, manages to expertly embody the idea of someone who makes a transition from bubbly, cheerful woman, surrounded by friends, to virtual recluse. Although she rarely speaks, Zawe portrays emotions well through looks and movements; Joyce’s final day in her flat is an especially well acted scene, powerfully assisted by stark, lingering shots. Dreams Of A Life is also a very musical film, which Morley thought important, seeing as Joyce herself had wanted to be a singer. Scenes where Joyce sings, both as a child and an adult, are beautiful and give a voice to Joyce, who very rarely speaks during the film.
Carol Morley has created a documentary that manages not to lay blame on anyone as to how Joyce could have been forgotten and rather than ask the question “why?”, reflects on people’s perceptions of Joyce, and memories of this seemingly bewitching girl who once met Nelson Mandela and chatted to Stevie Wonder on the phone. Dreams Of A Life subconsciously asks us to take a close look at ourselves and anyone viewing this film is practically forced to question their own lifestyle and chance of being left to rot. Ultimately both disturbing and thought provoking, I challenge anyone to watch it and come away feeling unaffected.
Dreams Of A Lifeis back by popular demand and showing in Broadway’s Lounge until Sunday 5 February; a lovely, intimate place to watch such an absorbing story. Well decorated and cosy, ensure you book in advance as there are only a very limited number of seats.