Through interviews and reconstructions,DREAMS OF A LIFE tells the tragic story of Joyce Carole Vincent,who died alone apparently in her North London bedsit in December 2003 surrounded by unopened Christmas presents,but was not discovered until 2006,when bailiffs entered the property,finding her decomposed remains with the TV still switched on.
When it was initially reported by the UK press,there were little details of her life and no photographs published.Filmmaker Carole Morley read about the story,and began to place adverts in local newspapers asking who knew her, and try and build Joyce's life story and to why it ended so tragically.
It took many years for all the pieces to come together,and eventually,various friends,work colleagues and partners came forward, and with their recollections and memories paint a portrait of a vivacious,beautiful,sociable but troubled and reticent young woman who could be the life of any party, yet always seemed to hold herself back from commitment to marriage,work or habitats.There are moments of humour but this is essentially a very sad story,with as many questions unanswered as answered.None of Joyce's remaining close family are present, this being her four sisters.Her mother died when she was only 11, and her father was a transient presence in her childhood, seemingly more interested in carousing and womanising and explaining her mother's death in a flippant,insensitive manner.
Her adult life parallelled that of her Father's in being nomadic and unsettled, with her first serious boyfriend Martin being no oil painting (as he admitted) but thoroughly decent and personable nonetheless, though with her exotic Indian/Afro-Caribeaan good looks always attracting attention from men,sometimes appreciated,often unwanted,made her a difficult woman to keep, and in the end, there was a parting of the waves.
An attempt at becoming a soul singer failed, though this led her to another partner, who was involved in the music industry and didn't care much for her singing but cared very much for her as a person. This relationship broke down,as did another attempt with Martin, and after boarding with a succession of friends, she ended up in a modest bedsit (with unsubstantiated rumours that she was attacked by another partner), unable to conquer various personal problems and bad memories, her death shrouded in as much mystery and contradictions as her short life brought.
The film itself is as much as a detective story as a biography of a seemingly unremarkable life, and significantly none of Joyce's family take part in the interviews.It could have been the case that the reconstructions, perhaps mostly speculative, could have been an unnecessary distraction and ill-judged, yet thanks to sensitive handling, are very touching if not poetic, and acted with considerable style by Zawe Ashton, almost totally voiceless except for a few moments of singing, portraying Joyce through body and facial expression with total conviction.This is all very well juxtaposed with the interviewees thoughts involved, never lapsing into mawkishness or sentiment. And if even the most stone-hearted of you don't go misty-eyed when Joyce (as played by Ms Ashton) part-sings/mimes a particular soul ballad into a hair brush, you are not human.
DREAMS OF A LIFE should be a lesson to us all, to contact family, loved ones or friends if absent for a while, just to see if all is OK.How come that a woman with so much to live for died in one of the World's biggest metropolises with no-one noticing for nearly three years? Is that sense of community gone now because of greater selfishness in our more dehumanised,materially-obsessed World? Could such a dreadful event occur again? Such questions linger in the mind long after seeing the film, which is totally compelling and absorbing from first to last shot, and although a few scenes look a trifle misguided, perhaps due to the modest budget involved, Carole Morley has produced a wholly memorable and deeply touching film with the right amount of dignity and respect towards it's subject.Joyce Vincent passed away in very distressing and tragic circumstances, but DREAMS OF A LIFE is a fitting tribute to a young woman who was liked and loved by so many but perhaps no one ever fully knew.
RATING:8 and a half out of 10.