Dreams Of A Life Review: Slipping Through The Cracks

DREAMS OF A LIFE (12A): On Selected Release Wednesday 14th December

No man is an island.  That’s a statement that requires a little more thought after watching Dreams Of Life, a profoundly sad documentary about Joyce Carol Vincent, a 38 year old woman whose skeletonised remains were found in her flat – with the TV still on – three years after she had died.

Filmmaker Carol Morley interviews former friends, colleagues and boyfriends as she attempts to unravel the mystery about how such an apparently vibrant, beautiful and well-connected woman simply vanished without anyone noticing.

Surprisingly little is known about Joyce even by people who say they knew her quite well and different groups of people give contradictory accounts of what she was really like.  Whether that’s the treachery of memory playing tricks or evidence that Joyce liked to keep her private and public lives strictly separate is left up to the viewer to decide.  What they do agree on is that Joyce, though likeable and charismatic was chameleonic, and adapted her lifestyle to suit whoever she was going out with at the time.

Morely uses docu-drama to help piece together Joyce’s life (with Zawe Ashton playing Joyce) and blurs established fact and speculation which helps spark the imagination of the viewer.   While there is evidence to suggest that she suffered from domestic abuse in later life, because there are so many unknowns, certain interviewees are prone to wild guesswork; evidence that she was murdered or was a victim of child abuse are less well founded.  But Morely wisely sticks to replicating events that seem the most plausible and that alone is enough to get an audience thinking.

There are so many unanswered questions and tantalising nuggets of information that it’s impossible not to be drawn in; Joyce died next to a pile of unwrapped Christmas presents.  Who were they for?  Surely that implied that she cared about someone, so why did no one notice?

In the age of Facebook where we’re used to hundreds of people know our every movement; it seems impossible to think that something like this could happen.  But in watching Dreams Of A Life, perhaps our idea of a permanent social network is more of an illusion that we first thought.  It’s certainly food for thought.