By John Nassoori

‘Woman dead in flat for 3 years,’ was the Sun’s take on the discovery of a skeleton in a Wood Green flat in 2006. The slightly clinical headline does little justice to the tragic story surrounding the death of 38-year-old Joyce Vincent, who lay dead in her bedsit between 2003 and 2006, seemingly unbeknown to family, friends and the wider world.

‘Dreams of a Life’, directed by Carol Morley, is a touching film that attempts to understand why Joyce died, how her death went unnoticed for so long and what it tells us about the society we live in.

The film begins its near faultless investigation of this haunting story by reconstructing attempts to enter the flat above Shopping City in 2006.

After bailiffs break down the front door, they are greeted by a pile of unopened letters, the quiet buzz of a TV, wrapped Christmas presents – and Joyce’s body.

This sets the scene for a series of interviews with her friends, work colleagues and old school mates, who are unanimous in their sadness at the loss of a lady described as beautiful, intelligent and fun.

The detail and poignancy of the discussions with an eclectic range of personalities – from musicians to former Ernst & Young colleagues – is a tribute to the skill of director Morley.

Leaving no stone unturned in her quest to find suitable interviewees (she placed adverts in papers and taxis asking people to contact her if they knew Joyce), Morley refuses to linger on the opinions of a particular individual, ensuring Joyce’s character is properly illuminated by a range of memories.

This balanced portrayal – Joyce’s ability to detach herself quite ruthlessly from friends is as evident as her natural exuberance – is complimented by the wide-ranging topic s topics the film tackles.

Morley attempts to provide an insight into music culture during the 1980s, modern working relationships and the tenuous link between ‘communities’ and friendships in London.

Yet this is never at the expense of the main purpose of the film – to investigate and learn from Joyce’s death – and provides colour to what is a dark subject matter.

Joyce (played with effortless charisma by Zawe Ashton) is shown dancing to Sade in nightclubs, dressing up in a French maid’s costume to entertain friends and singing along to Motown in her bedroom.

The film’s attempt to tease out lessons from Joyce’s death is perhaps the weakest part of the 90 minutes, with suggestions not straying much beyond the idea that communities need to become closer.

However, at the very least, Morely’s attempt to elicit ideas from her interviewees is honourable. Indeed, in a post London-riots context, it might be argued that more filmmakers should examine their subjects in such a forensic and engaging way.

About The Author

Simon Fitzjohn

Simon is a journalism tutor in London, who also just happens to be a movie fanatic, with a craving for the darker side of cinema. He has written two books, one on the horror films of director Bob Clark (2014) and the other on the history of the character Norman Bates (2015). His third book, on the work of British exploitation director Pete Walker, is due in 2017.