The life of an­other

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - Filmreviews -

IN EARLY 2006, doc­u­men­tar­ian Carol Mor­ley was on the Lon­don Un­der­ground when she spot­ted a head­line in a dis­carded copy of the Sun: “Wo­man dead in flat for three years: skele­ton of Joyce found on sofa with telly still on.”

Joyce Carol Vin­cent had died on her couch three years be­fore hous­ing as­so­ci­a­tion of­fi­cials dis­cov­ered her de­com­pos­ing body. There were small poignant de­tails: the TV was still tuned into the BBC in the cor­ner and the dead wo­man had been wrap­ping Christ­mas presents.

How had Joyce’s three-year ab­sence gone un­no­ticed by the in­tended re­cip­i­ents? By the time of the in­quest, the press had re­ported that the wo­man was 38-years-old, that she was born in West Lon­don to Caribbean par­ents, and that she had spent time in refuge for vic­tims of do­mes­tic vi­o­lence shortly be­fore she moved into the grotty bed­sit that would be­come her tomb. She had fam­ily, some of whom at­tended the in­quest. She had friends. She had no prob­lems with al­co­hol or drugs.

The scant bi­og­ra­phy only piqued Mor­ley’s cu­rios­ity. She placed ad­ver­tise­ments. She chased leads. She had to know how some­one could sim­ply dis­ap­pear.

Her in­ves­ti­ga­tion has co­a­lesced into Dreams of a Life, a mov­ing movie por­trait of modern iso­la­tion. Here friends and col­leagues re­call a girl who was beau­ti­ful and chatty, who had a habit of mov­ing and chang­ing jobs, who was well- loved but se­cre­tive.

Martin, Joyce’s former boyfriend, de­scribes her as the love of his life: “Peo­ple used to say she looked like Whit­ney Hus­ton,” he smiles. “But she was bet­ter look­ing than that.” Kim and Dan, two of Joyce’s co-work­ers at the trea­sury depart­ment of multinational Ernst & Young, get fits of the gig­gles re­call­ing Joyce’s of­fice party an­tics. Old flame Kirk re­mem­bers her brief record­ing ca­reer and how she charmed Cap­tain Sen­si­ble and Isaac Hayes.

The steady drip-feed of in­for­ma­tion makes for a fas­ci­nat­ing por­trait of a fas­ci­nat­ing wo­man. But the more we know the fur­ther we get from un­der­stand­ing the sad, lonely man­ner of Joyce’s death.

Be­tween in­ter­views, Mor­ley’s hy­brid doc­u­men­tary makes con­vinc­ing use of reen­act­ment. Del­i­cate per­for­mances from Fresh Meat’s Zawe Ash­ton and Alix Luka-cain, both play­ing Joyce at dif­fer­ent stages, bring a dra­matic ur­gency to a cel­e­bra­tory trib­ute.

There’s some­thing of an Ir­ish wake about Dreams of a Life; it ought to be a downer but in­stead we get a fan­fare and a gift that was never de­liv­ered.

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