Rooted in a story that is not only unnerving, but also desperately sad, Dreams of a Life, a documentary six years in the making, seeks to discover the truth as to how one woman, Joyce Carol Vincent (played beautifully by British actress Zawe Ashton), managed to fall through the cracks and lie dead in her lonely London bedsit for three years before being found by council workers looking to repossess her property.
Constructed through an assortment of news clippings and interviews with ex-colleagues, associates and lovers – notice the mysterious absence of family members – Dreams of a Life ties everything together with a series of dramatisations which work off the various aspects of Joyce’s character as described by those who knew her. She is painted as a kind, compassionate, talented, yet indecisive young woman who drifted in and out of other people’s lives. The woman at the helm of this documentary, Carol Morley – who became obsessed with the story after stumbling across the article in a fellow train passenger’s discarded newspaper – is able to paint an alarmingly credible image of Joyce’s life up until the months preceding her death.
Morley triumphantly ascends from short filmmaking to deliver a sharp, refreshing and affectionate piece, both aesthetically pleasing and grounded in its own sense of authenticity. Though several heavyweight issues are touched upon, not least the inexcusable way in which society let Joyce fade into obscurity, Morley never lets the documentary get bogged down in overwrought conspiracy theories, instead choosing only to focus on the facts or plausible memories offered up by those who played a part in her life, leaving the more open-ended questions to play on your mind for hours after the film draws to a conclusion.
The few problems that do present themselves over the duration, such as an over-reliance on dramatisation or the obvious feel of padding due to the limited, vague material are only to be expected, never really distracting from from the impact this fascinating documentary has on its audience. While you may come out still puzzled as to how Joyce fell foul to such a tragic death, you’ll feel somewhat motivated to ensure this never happens again.