Words by Anna Parker
In 2006, a young woman’s body was found in a London flat, shockingly Joyce Carol Vincent had lain dead for three years before her body was found. So begins Carol Morley’s documentary film, Dreams of a Life (2011).
After reading about the discovery in a paper, Morley set about trying to piece together the 40 year old woman’s life. Ex-boyfriends and work colleagues answered adverts she placed asking for information and their interviews make up much of this film. The result is a fascinating and frustrating film in equal measure.
We learn that Joyce came from a large Afro Caribbean family and despite a far from illustrious education had worked at well-paid jobs in the City. Through friends she’d met the likes of Nelson Mandela and Gil Scott Heron and was a popular and much liked character amongst those who knew her.
However, those friends were surprised at the lack of contact she maintained with her family and it appears Joyce was living a roaming lifestyle, constantly moving from flat to flat, and failing to keep long standing friendships. The one long term relationship she did maintain (albeit in an on and off way) was unlikely to lead to anything as her white boyfriend was worried about marrying and having children with a person of mixed race. When she left her job in 2001 many assumed Joyce was off to brighter and better things, instead she entered a shelter for victims of domestic violence whilst working as a cleaner.
The director, Carol Morely (The Alcohol Years) forgoes using photos of Joyce in favour of filmed scenes with the actress Zawe Ashston (Fresh Meat, St Trinians 2) acting certain crucial moments of Joyce’s life, this emphasises possibly the most crucial point of the film; how little is known about Joyce and her final moments. The bewilderment of her acquaintances will probably be reflected in the film’s viewers.
In an age of the internet and mobile phones, it seems unbelievable that someone could die without their lack of interaction triggering alarm bells. Although the issue of domestic violence is not explored deeply in this film, viewers may conclude that this explains why she lost contact with those closest to her, domestic violence victims are often isolated from those who care for them, but as is often the case during the film, the one person who could explain how she ended up dying alone and unnoticed, is simply unable to explain.
Although it appears much more could be revealed about Joyce’s life, Morley respects her privacy and that of her family, thus it is never clearly explained if she was on the verge of re-establishing a relationship with them, Joyce’s life remains a mystery. The film ends with video footage shot of Joyce and with many questions going unanswered.
An intriguing and brutally sad film that will stay with those who watch it for a long time afterwards, it demonstrates how easy it is to become disconnected from society, even when it appears a person has a bright future ahead of them.