Film Review: Dreams Of A Life (London Film Festival 2011)

on Sunday, October 16, 2011
'Dreams Of A Life' (UK Release: 16 Dec '11) // Words: Saam Das

Dreams Of A Life image Zawe Ashton

In 2006, a woman named Joyce Carol Vincent was found dead in her North London bedsit surrounded by Christmas presents and with the television still on. She had in fact died three years earlier, in mysterious circumstance, still only in her late thirties. Documentary filmmaker Carol Morley chose to investigate the story and 'Dreams Of A Life' is her fascinating, moving story on Joyce's life and death.

Morley isn't of the more in-your-face documentarian ilk of a Michael Moore or a Nick Broomfield, nor a master of narration like Werner Herzog. Instead, she crafts Joyce's story almost entirely off-screen, bar the rare vocal interruption in interviews with the film's participants. It's a fitting style which allows Joyce's story to remain at the forefront throughout 'Dreams Of A Life'.

The biggest disappointment is the (admittedly understandable) lack of family involvement during the documentary. As 'Dreams Of A Life' progresses, the more there is speculation into Joyce's childhood and her family problems. The issues brought up are entirely feasible but the lack of confirmation or even discussion from the people closest to Joyce in her formative years questions some of the conclusions of her psychological state prior to her passing.

Nonetheless, there are plenty of compelling insights from the participants - made up of old friends, people Joyce had worked with, former boyfriends, and ex-flatmates - who regularly appear on screen. Morley builds a web of Joyce's interactions and movements, guiding the viewer through her life, in a comprehensive but digestible manner, up until her mysterious death.

We discover that Joyce was a vibrant, stylish, attractive lady with no history of drink or drug problems - albeit with an enigmatic, secretive side. But to die alone before she'd even reached the age of forty is a travesty in itself, let alone only being discovered three years later. As one of the interviewee astutely but alarmingly noted: "even in the 21st century, people still fall through the cracks."

Carol Morley made 'Dreams Of A Life' so that Joyce Carol Vincent would not be forgotten. She has utterly succeeded in that task, none more so than in the film's powerful final seconds - the first time we see video footage of Joyce. It's a haunting memory but an important one. The legacy of 'Dreams Of A Life' may not simply be to highlight one person's forgotten life but to also save more from suffering the same tragic fate.


'Dreams Of A Life' is screening at the 55th BFI London Film Festival, ahead of its UK release on December 16th. For more info, head to

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