This docu-drama about the life & deterioration of Joyce Vincent, who died aged 38, was interesting & moved me deeply. Though the role of playing Joyce doesn't seriously challenge actor Zawe Ashton, she still gives us a fine interpretation. The many interviews from her former friends & acquaintances depict a highly intelligent, vivacious, attractive woman, who was quite a socialite in her prime, even meeting Nelson Mandela. Sadly, in the last years of her life, she'd disappeared completely off the social radar, finally ending up in a bedsit provided as a refuge for battered women. It was here that her dead body lay undiscovered for 3 years.
One gets the impression that Joyce was a very complex individual struggling with many inner demons, who became a drifter in her latter years. I agree with L. Hennessey's review about some kind of depressive illness being a likely contributing factor to her deterioration. Highly intelligent people like Joyce can hide increasing depressive illness from others for longer than usual, despite the inner damage done to ones personality. The previous abusive relationship with a male companion would also have significantly exacerbated her already vulnerable condition.
This seems a reasonable explanation for her general deterioration & increasing need for social isolation. However, such was the extent of destitution portrayed overall, I felt compelled to Google more about her family, not least her 4 sisters.
I discovered that her sisters had in fact been searching for Joyce with considerable effort for a long time before she died. They even hired a private detective for the task. His search actually lasted for a long time after Joyce's lonely death. Presumably some of the Christmas presents Joyce was wrapping when she died were intended for her sisters.
For a so-called docu-drama, I found it disappointing that the director omitted such key facts, skewing what would still be a very sad outcome to Joyce's, or anyone's, life. It seems that some people cared very much for Joyce, but as some form of depressive illness continued to ravage her mind, she became more distant, more elusive, more secretive, more withdrawn, until finally she just didn't want to be found by anyone, even by her loved ones. - Note also that her sisters declined an invitation to appear in these interviews.
This docu-drama ends with real-life footage of Joyce in a room listening to a speech by Nelson Mandela. Right at the very end she turns towards the camera. Knowing what we know by then, that last image remains indelibly fixed in my mind.
I was left saddened after watching this, but I still highly recommend "Dreams of a Life" to others. One star knocked off for key omissions that may misrepresent her sisters & a few scenes that seem superfluous to the overall story.