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4.5 out of 5 stars
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4.5 out of 5 stars
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on 9 February 2013
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form of depressive illness continued to ravage her mind, she became more distant, more elusive, more secretive, more withdrawn, until finally she just didn't want to be found by anyone, even by her loved ones.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.
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The story of Joyce Vincent is a sad one: in 2003 she died alone in her flat at the young age of 38, where her body lay undiscovered for three years - when she was eventually discovered by bailiffs who made a forced entry, the television was still on. This documentary taps into the horror and dread that most people feel when they try to imagine how isolated a life can become for that to be possible.

The film-makers attempt to recreate a time-line of her life by interviewing people that knew her - they published public notices appealing for those who recognised her name to contact them. We see past loves, school friends and work colleagues talk to the camera as they describe an outgoing, vivacious and attractive woman who by all accounts was the centre of attention wherever she went. They all seem to be properly shocked by her fate. 'How could this have happened?' is the question that hides just underneath their spoken words.

Interspersed between these testaments are reconstruction scenes, which I felt took away from the impact of the story - I've never been a fan of this form of depicting events: in my opinion the film was edited to 90 minutes for the cinematic release, but would have really benefited from being cut down to an hour, and removing most of it. I don't need to see three and a half minutes of an actress singing along to a song in front of a wardrobe mirror with a hairbrush, for example - I *know* I'm not watching the real subject of the story, but someone pretending to be her; it got quite irritating to go through at moments. The lack of pictures or footage of the real Joyce was a powerful absence, but one that wasn't filled by these scenes.

Putting that issue to one side, as the witnesses recounted their memories of her, a picture of what she was really like began to come into focus; although most people react with astonishment at the way her life turned, I find it very easy to understand, as many who struggle with depression in their life will do too.

I believe Joyce suffered from a depressive illness; I can tell you from personal experience that it makes you shut yourself away from those who care about you; the tendency is to isolate yourself, and become quite reclusive if there's no-one around with enough tenacity to keep on breaking through the walls you make. I felt that Alistair, one of her ex-boyfriends, really cut to the truth of the matter when he said "Joyce died alone... because she wanted to be alone". It's far more than a self-evident statement; she had isolated herself to such a degree that no-one knew where or what she was up to any more.

Her three sisters declined to take part in the film - I can see why, as it doesn't put them in a very good light. It's easy to be judgmental though, and although the film mentions the suspicions of some of the people in her life that she had been abused as a child perhaps, her sisters would probably have had to cope with the same upbringing that she did too. Joyce's mother died when she was very young, and though it's not focused on much, her father seems to have raised them on his own.

I'm left with these thoughts:

- She died in her home of natural causes: this isn't unusual - it's the length of time her body lay there that makes it unusual.

- As well as the TV still going on in the background (I find this the most horrific thing for some reason), she had been wrapping christmas presents when she died. BUT - who were they for? It's never divulged.

- She was someone who dropped in and out of people's lives, which makes it understandable how her friends lost contact with her

- the film would have been leaner and stronger if they'd edited it down further

- she reminded me of myself.

Sobering.
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on 7 October 2013
This is a very haunting, thought provoking documentary leaving more questions than answers.
In order to find answers to my questions I undertook some internet research & was shocked to find that the sisters had tried to find Joyce using a private investigator (Carol Morley the director, did say this in a Time Out Interview). It was stated at the beginning of the documentary that the family did not want to take part & I was left with the impression they hadn't "bothered" but this clearly was not the case so with hindsight this documentary is not as balanced as I thought it was.
Despite this it is absolutely fascinating & makes you really question "Could this happen to me - what do I need to do to make sure this wouldn't happen".
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on 12 March 2012
This is 1st class movie making ,
it is like being on the outside of someones life and looking in ,
Who lives behind those house or flat windows ?
The story behind it is an original one ,
and the ending is stunning
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on 8 October 2015
A quite fascinating and sad story, but one that left me feeling a bit underwhelmed. It was pretty well put together, and relied on real people to tell the tale, but it all went on too long I felt, and would have been better condensed into an hour. Although it was amazing how she remained undiscovered for 3 years and really sad, I did wander why a film was made about it, as there must be many sad situations like this, and hence the underwhelming.
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on 23 October 2015
True documentary. Concerns the deeply sad discovery in 2003 of a middle-aged woman's body in a London flat. She had been dead for 3 years and the television was still on, Christmas parcels she had been wrapping were on the floor. Why had no one noticed she had died? Clearly she had no family, no friends, nobody. She was only discovered when action was taken over the unpaid bills and a forced entry into her flat. Awfully sad.
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on 8 December 2012
The above line comes from a hauntingly beautiful song by, in my opinion, Newcastle's most imperishable songwriter, Alan Hull of Lindisfarne. Most people only know him, if they know him at all, for 'Fog on the Tyne', but, as anyone who listens to his solo work will realize, he was so much more than that. And the strange and desperately sad story of Joyce Vincent puts me in mind of that said song of Hull's,'Somewhere Out There', about the mystery that is human existence with all its vagaries.

That's how I felt about Joyce Vincent's life: that her story was destroyed before it could be connected. I feel deeply sad and sorry for her that this didn't prove possible. Carol Morley deserves plaudits for her dogged efforts to unearth what information she could about Joyce's life, and also for highlighting how the social fabric of this country grows ever weaker. And yes, most of Joyce's friends and acquaintances come across as slightly self-absorbed in this film, and it could be argued that they should have made more of an effort to see how things were going in her life. Most seem to be products of the glitzy (yet wholly vacant) decade of Thatcher, which did so much to contribute to the atomization of British society.

Having said that, Joyce seemed to me to be a woman who could never establish roots or stability, and so consequently she led a pretty rootless, drifting existence. Whether this was because her father wasn't a big presence in her life we can only speculate, but I felt that she was actually quite a complex woman who was searching for something that she could never quite find, and that's a very sad reality of life. She was beautiful and intelligent, but what her life and this film show is that these things do not guarantee a fairytale ending. She clearly could never overcome her inner demons and those who knew and loved her couldn't help her to either. I don't think it's too much to conclude that Joyce Vincent died from natural causes. After all, she suffered from asthma, but did not, says an old boyfriend, take her medication as she should have - a potentially fatal mistake when it comes to this condition. The real tragedy, however, is the fact that someone's body can lie there decomposing for over two years, unnoticed, in a country like Britain.

This leads me on to some of the questions that the film failed to answer. Namely, how could someone lie dead and decomposing for such a length of time without the authorities not thinking something was amiss? Do the authorities usually wait until three years have elapsed before badgering someone for rent arrears and so forth? Even if Miss Vincent's bills were being deducted via Direct Debit, it still seems strange that not even one utility firm did not suspect something was up. Lynne Featherstone, Joyce's constituency MP, did apparently tackled the utility companies about the issue, only to be politely ignored. If an MP can be blithely ignored and fobbed off in such a fashion, then I'm not sure what this says about the influence of our estimable electoral representatives.

Overall, this film was generally well put together, and the affecting story of Joyce Vincent will stay in my mind for a long time to come.
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on 2 February 2012
A stunning, frightening and very moving film on how you can get lost even in a big city like London. You will cry and ring a friend straight after.....
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on 15 February 2012
INCREDIBLE PIECE OF WORK , SAW THIS AT THE CINEMA , WILL BUY THE DVD , IT TRULLY BEGGARS ALL BELIEVE , THAT SOME ONE COULD DIE AND NOT BE MISSED BY THEIR FRIENDS . THIS TRULY VERY SAD AND EMOTIONAL STORY OF JOYCE VINCENT WHOSE REMAINS WERE FOUND 3 YEARS UNDISCOVERED IN HER FLAT WITH THE TV APPARENTLY STILL ON ,A LOT OF QUESTIONS COME TO THE MIND HOW COULD THIS HAPPEN ?,WHY WAS SHE NOT MISSED ,? VERY BRILIANTLY AND THOUGHT PROVOCATIVELY WRITTEN AND DIRECTED ,LEAVES THE VEIWER WITH AN INSIGHT BY THE PEOPLE WHO KNEW JOYCE.VERY SAD AS IT WAS , A LOT OF THOSE QUESTIONS FIND EXPLANATION .I HOPE THE FILM RECIEVES THE ACCOLADE IT DESERVES AND IS WELL WORTH A LOOK AT. THIS IS A DOCUMENTARY /DRAMA LIFE STORY OF A BEAUTIFUL LADY ,BROUGHT TO THE VEIWER WITH A COMPASSIONATE AND HEARTFELT EXPLANATION OF A VERY SAD TRAGEDY.WELL DONE FILM ON 4 AND CAROL MORELY, ZAWE ASHTON PROTRAYS JOYCE WITH A GLIMPSE OF THE BEAUTY AND OF HER CHARACTER ACTED BRILIANTLY .THIS FILM IS STUNING.
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on 6 April 2012
Bought the DVD after reading about the director and her experiences with making the film about Joyce in Oh Comely magazine. This led me to an online article by Carol and then on to the film. Very well made, going between interviews with people in Joyce's life (exs, work colleague, etc.) to re-enactments with the brilliant actress, Zawe...? It paints a really good picture but also leaves the viewer to make their own mind up about who Joyce was and how she ended up unnoticed for three years. Some of the people in her life contradict each other and so go to show that not one person completely knows even anyone.

The only negative I can think of is that there is no solid conclusion, but this is based on my usual viewings of made-for-TV documentaries with the nicely rounded ending. So not a negative, but a difference. The director, Carol herself, really works to paint a larger picture of Joyce and it really is a film that will leave you thinking about it long afterwards. The musical moments are also magical and fit in really well to match the theme.

Finally, the special features are worth the price of the DVD alone. They include everything you could want, including video diaries and interviews which reveal a bit more about Joyce and the process of the film-making.
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