It was when writer and director Carol Morley read an article in the Sun newspaper that carried the haunting headline “Woman lays dead for three years” that she became intrigued.
On 25 January 2006, officials from a north London housing association repossessing a bedsit overlooking the busy Wood Green Shopping City owing to rent arrears made a grim discovery. Lying on the sofa was the skeleton of a 38-year-old woman who had been dead for almost three years. In a corner of the room the television set was still on, tuned to BBC1, and a small pile of newly wrapped Christmas presents lay on the floor. Washing up was heaped in the kitchen sink and a mountain of post lay behind the front door. Food in the refrigerator was marked with 2003 expiry dates. The dead woman's body was so badly decomposed comparing dental records with an old holiday photograph of her smiling was the only way to identify it. This was the body of Joyce Carol Vincent.
It took Carol Morley five years to research and make her first documentary feature film Dreams of a Life (2011) about a young woman of which so little was originally known. She placed adverts in newspapers, the internet and even placed one on London’s black taxi cabs to find people who knew this friendly good looking sexy young women who so easily became a forgotten person. Eventually friends and colleges gradually came forward, but not her four sisters who wanted to remain anonymous, and it’s these people who the director skillfully interviews to give us a framework to Joyce Vincent’s short existence. Morley also gives us reconstructed elements of her life showing the very young schoolgirl (Alix Luka-Cain) with her mother and father and the older Joyce who is convincingly played by Zawe Ashton, we also get to witness the Wood Green flat in which the body was found.
This film raises many fundamental questions including how easy it is to get lost in a crowded city and how this vibrant young women can disappear without her so called boyfriends, family and wide circle of friends appearing to care. Where were the local authorities and utility companies that let the outstanding bills mount up for three years while a lonely corpse was allowed to rot? This must be one of the most heartbreakingly depressing but eye opening documentary films I have ever seen and one which evokes the true meaning of Christmas for many people: loneliness. The bright lights are not always as attractive as they seem?