Friday, January 11, 2013

Dreams of a Life

Tonight, while Liz was out, Alyssa was on a sleepover, and Naomi and playdate watched the dreadful Ice Age 4 in the sitting room, I watched Dreams of a Life in the bedroom. We'd shown it as part of our British Film Week last month but it was the one film I didn't get a chance to see beforehand or during. Time to make amends. 
And it's brilliant. Haunting but compassionate. The story of Joyce Vincent, a Londoner of Caribbean descent, who died in 2003 in Wood Green in north London. Shockingly, her body lay undiscovered, surrounded by a small pile of unopened Christmas presents and with the television and heating still on, for approximately three years. The cause of her death remains unknown (no foul play was suspected), but how could someone's absence go unnoticed for so long? Who was Joyce Vincent? What was she like? How could she have been forgotten?
We were living in London at the time and I remember the tabloid headlines in early 2006 when the story broke. A young film-maker, Carol Morley (brother of music critic Paul), was similarly struck by the story, but for her it was life-changing: she knew she had to make a film about it. But first she had to find out who exactly Joyce Vincent was. Nobody knew anything about her. Morley placed adverts in newspapers, on internet sites, even on the sides of taxis, and eventually people got in touch and, piece-by-piece, Joyce's story came together.
The surprising thing was that Joyce had been a beautiful, vivacious young woman, working in the City. She'd dabbled in the music business through boyfriends (she'd even been out to dinner with Steve Wonder), but for various reasons she began to cut herself off from people, including her family; left her job, constantly changed addresses and finally 'disappeared'. 
Morley's film is excellent: part dramatised (Zawe Ashton plays Joyce), part interviews with those who knew her. I wholeheartedly recommend it, as well as an in-depth article in The Observer from 2009 which is still on-line here.
Ironically, I had the chance of bringing Carol Morley to Beijing for the opening of our Film Week, but chose Terence Davies instead - who at the last minute withdrew. I wish I'd chosen Carol.

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