55th BFI London Film Festival – Dreams of a Life (2011)

Dreams of a Life, 2011.

Written and Directed by Carol Morley.
Starring Zawe Ashton, Jonathan Harden, Ki’juan Whitton and Daren Elliott Holmes.


The sad and intriguing story of a young woman discovered in a London flat three years after her death.

How would you feel if one day someone contacted you and told you that a former lover, an ex work colleague or an old friend’s body had been found in her bedsit… but she had in fact been dead for three years and had only just been discovered?

This is what happened to the associates of Joyce Vincent, whose badly decomposed body, which upon discovery was nothing more than a skeleton, was found on the sofa of her home in 2006. Three years down the line from her death, people were flabbergasted that someone can just vanish without anyone trying to find them; as one interviewee points out “even in this twenty first century people still fall through the cracks.”

So who exactly was Joyce Vincent? Director Carol Morley went about answering this question by speaking to reporters of the story, old friends and acquaintances and ex boyfriends, who all had very positive things to say about the deceased woman but who also agreed that she must have been hiding some hidden troubles from them.

The documentary is very interesting, and the mystery surrounding Joyce’s death is a hugely intriguing subject matter. Through character references and personal stories and anecdotes we are given a picture of what Joyce was like as a person. Fun, outgoing and the centre of attention she attracted a lot of interest. But as the documentary progresses we are highlighted to the darker realms of Joyce’s life.

The interviews are very passionate, honest and moving, and the reconstructions of Joyce’s actions help paint a picture of her for the audience. Towards the end I personally tried to come to my own conclusions as to why, and perhaps more astonishingly how, a seemingly happy-go-lucky woman’s corpse goes unnoticed for several years. I’m sure I wasn’t alone in this, and by the end you really feel like you knew Joyce personally. The last shot of the film is footage of the real Joyce, as opposed to the actress in the reconstructions, at a Nelson Mandela rally, which was a fitting tribute to a very moving and thorough investigative documentary.

Morley has made here a subtly powerful film about what it’s like to have a place in this world. It will make you ponder, search within yourself and feel grateful for those that are closest to you. And on the way home you may find yourself inclined to call someone you haven’t spoken to for a while, just to see if they are ok and to let them know you are thinking of them. This is a thoroughly involving documentary.

Dreams of a Life is released in UK cinemas on December 16th. Visit the official site here.

Jon Dudley is a freelance film and television journalist and his 17-minute short film Justification was shown at the 2009 Cannes Film Festival.

  • Ann

    When will it come to Canada?

  • http://flickeringmyth.blogspot.com/ Flickering Myth

    No idea Ann, sorry. I'd keep an eye on the official site… http://dreamsofalife.com/