Carol Morley’s documentary about the bizarre and lonely death of Joyce Vincent is really a horror story.
The horror comes in the growing realisation that none of her friends, and there were many, ever really knew her and that when the end came no-one was there to prevent it.
So it was that this vivacious, charismatic and mysterious woman met a sorry end. The newspapers’ headlines blazed: Joyce died in December 2003 and her body lay undiscovered for three long years. When her skeleton was eventually found she was surrounded by un-sent Christmas presents. And her TV set was still on.
Morley’s film is a detective story in which friends, work colleagues, flatmates and lovers delve deep into their collective memory to paint a portrait – not of a weird hermit, but of an ordinary woman with hidden psychological scars, abandonment issues and wanderlust.
The film reveals how Joyce drifted from one relationship to another, from one job to another, never confiding, never fully trusting, never telling the whole truth. She was and remains an enigma.
Much of the power of this film comes via the testimony of friends and acquaintances. One suggests that Joyce is a perfect example of our dislocated society – that she was able to vanish and perish without anyone being aware.
Dreams of a Life is a celebration of a personality. Morley hints as Joyce’s miserable demise without – thankfully – lingering on it as the shock finale to the film. There are no gratuitous images of her remains though there is footage of the interior of her flat and the room where the body was found.
This is less a film about death than it is a patchwork of memories, sounds and photographs.
It is all the more compelling and memorable for that. Emotions are raw and the slow-burn collapse of Joyce’s devoted on-off boyfriend, drowning in guilt for something he was powerless to prevent, is heart-rending.
Dramatised scenes of the younger Joyce do not weaken Morley’s delivery or the power of the finale – a slo-mo piece of grainy film that underlines the aloneness of this unusual, shadowy woman.
Only Joyce’s family can shed any light on this sad, lonely girl. Having chosen to remain anonymous, they aren’t saying anything.
On limited release