Director Carol Morley’s Dreams of a Life investigates the story of Joyce Vincent, a young woman who died in her London flat in 2003 and went undiscovered until 2006, when she was found decomposed with the television still on. Morley’s film is structured around a series of interviews with friends, boyfriends, colleagues and journalists juxtaposed with dramatic interpretations of her life, performed by actress Zawe Ashton. Rather than opt for a detailed exploration of Joyce Vincent’s death, Morley looks to details of her life to explore the underlying circumstances that could lead a seemingly happy, intelligent and socially mobile individual to disappear without a trace.
Filming on location in and around North London Morley paints a vivid picture of Joyce’s world, portraying moments of her life in sensitively constructed scenes based on memories of her interviewees. We witness an embarrassing occasion where a male stripper arrives at Joyce’s birthday, scenes portraying her early family life, moments spent with her friends as well as particularly haunting, surrealistic scenes of her watching television and riding in a London taxi bearing the advert ‘Have you seen Joyce Vincent’.
By mixing interview with acted sequences Morley creates an emotionally engaging portrait of the complex character of Joyce Vincent. We see a fun loving and lively young woman, combined with a paranoid secretive individual. We recognise how her choices, as well as the behaviour of others, lead her to a premature death and we reflect on how things could have turned out for the better. While Morley never pinpoints precisely what killed Joyce (her body was far too decomposed for a detailed autopsy), she leads us to understand the process of isolation and its potentially tragic consequences. Dreams of a Life is part documentary, part cautionary tale and a beautifully tragic tribute to a person who should never have been forgotten.