Dreams Of A Life

19 Oct

In London, a city of eight million people, it can admittedly be hard to focus on the individual. While we come across the same characters in our everyday lives – the woman who gets the 8.45am bus or the man who sells books by the tube station – would we notice if they weren’t there one day? And if so, would we ever think to question why not?

The story of the woman’s skeleton found in her flat above Wood Green Shopping Centre, still sat on the sofa with the television on, is one that began as in the tabloids before a lack of facts and tangible evidence threatened to banish it into urban myth. However Carol Morley refused to allow this, instead taking it upon herself to step in where the authorities and police failed and find out as much as she could about the woman who simply disappeared.

Dreams of a Life tells the sad but thought provoking story of Joyce Carol Vincent, an attractive, popular woman in her late thirties whose remains were found, surrounded by Christmas presents, in 2006, when bailiffs arrived to reclaim for missed rent payments. Using talking heads of former colleagues, friends and boyfriends, alongside re-imaginings of Joyce’s life from childhood to the modern day, Dreams of a Life attempts to piece together who Joyce was and how someone could come to such a lonely and bleak end.

With a touching performance from Zawe Ashton as Joyce, the interlaced re-imaginings give life to a story that once only displayed a lack thereof, inviting us into her world and allowing us to ‘meet’ this woman who had such a profound impact on so many people’s lives. Moments of comedy, such as the ill-fated kiss-a-gram vicar at her 21st birthday party and scenes of Joyce singing, work to breathe life in to the stories, reminding us that while Joyce met a truly tragic end, there were times of happiness. But then again, as contradictory as the testimonies themselves, with discoveries of abuse and violence, there are hints at a darker side to Joyce’s life that she kept well hidden behind her immaculate appearance and vivacious personality.

For a story so shrouded in mystery and the unknown, from the notably missing family testimonies (Joyce had four sisters) to the physical lack of evidence to be used to determine a cause of death, Morley expertly gathers her source material with sensitivity and the investigative expertise that makes you wish the police had called her earlier. If her portrayal of the case in the film wasn’t enough evidence, Morley’s compassion shone in her every word throughout the Q&A which followed the film, proving she cared for Joyce as strongly as those who had the good fortune to meet her.

The truth is, we will never know exactly what happened to Joyce Vincent. What Dreams of a Life does aim to prove, and wholly succeeds in doing so, is that even in this suffocated society, it only takes two minutes to send a message, pick up the phone, knock on a door – just to let someone know we are all still here.

Dreams of a Life was screened at the 55th BFI London Film Festival (in partnership with American Express) as part of the New British Cinema strand, on Sunday 16 and Tuesday 18 October.

(As featured on thelondonword.com)

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