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