Star rating – 8/10
You might think that in our modern world of being constantly socially connected to everyone we know, and plenty of those we don’t besides, that gone are the days when someone could slip out of view; just fade away and die, and lie undiscovered for over three years. You would be wrong, as hauntingly uncovered by film maker Carol Morley in her ‘Dreams of a Life’, just out on DVD, which tells the harrowing story of Joyce Vincent, who died in exactly those circumstances in 2006.
This film is a very difficult watch, although there are thankfully no grim recreations of Joy’s skeleton lying on the sofa in front of a constantly switched on TV, as her flesh rotted away. The grimness here comes from the way this happened as Joyce slipped under everyone’s radar, beautiful and vivacious as she apparently was.
It made me quite angry about the official agencies who should have known that something was wrong but did nothing for so long. Joyce lived in a London housing association flat – why did no-one think to do anything about her ever increasing rent arrears and lack of contact until three years had passed? Her TV was on for all that time why did the electricity company not act when her bills went unpaid year after year? And why did none of her neighbours report the terrible stench or constant noise of the TV that emanated from her flat? It is frankly just beyond belief.
But the more shocking story here is the one where a young woman slipped under the radar of her friends and family, for whom she was actually wrapping Christmas presents for at the time she died. I would like to think that someone would call round to my home if I didn’t contact my nearest and dearest for a few weeks, let alone long months and years. The ex friends, colleagues, and lovers of Joyce all tell their side of their relationships with her in the documentary portions of the film. An image is created of a lovable woman who created an outward glamorous image, but was more than a little slippery, and came and went as she pleased.
They all seemed to suspect an underlying sadness about her, or even more alarmingly, a propensity to choose the ‘wrong sort’ when it came to men. Joyce was apparently the victim of domestic violence at the hands of a man whom no-one was aware of or even know his name.
And what of her family? Her mother’s death when she was a child obviously had a shattering effect on Joyce, but why did her father and elder siblings let her slip out of view. As they don’t appear in the film we will never know.
This is a sad, thought provoking film that shatters any illusions about community we may have. There was no big society for Joyce Vincent, just a well of loneliness so deep it swallowed her up. Well done to Carol Morley, and the local MP who also helped to shine a light on the case, for bringing this cautionary tale to our attention. Let’s hope someone does pay attention. Women wanted to be like her, men wanted her, but Joyce Morley was still left to rot for three years, and the circumstances surrounding her death will never be known.