“When good cheer is lacking, our friends will be packing. For Joyce Vincent, this proverb summed up her existence. In 2003, her skeleton was found in her London flat three years after she died, surrounded by unopened Christmas presents. Nothing was known about her and no clues whatsoever. Carol Morley’s documentary Dreams of a Life is a quest to discover who she was and why such a pretty woman who seemingly had it all going for her became so forgotten.
These days, with Facebook and Twitter, such a sad story would seem inconceivable. But back in 2003 it was easy to lose touch with someone, especially if they had a reason to disappear. The trouble is we never find out why; more questions are left unanswered than answered. It doesn’t help that Morley isn’t granted permission to talk to Joyce’s three sisters, instead speculating on possible neglect and abuse at the hands of boyfriends and associates. It also doesn’t help that Martin - the man she astonishingly dated for years - is unable to provide any clues either. He just babbles on about how he wishes he helped her. Her other friends are just as useless. Nobody, it seems, ever met her family, and they didn’t bother asking about them either.
Dreams of a Life is a desperately sad story that deserves your attention and a better investigation. Some of it isn't Morley’s fault, but why would her family refuse to talk? How did the authorities not discover Joyce sooner when the television was entertaining her corpse for three years and she lived in a refuge for battered women? Didn’t anyone wonder where that deathly smell was emanating from? Surely she had bills that were mounting up? Instead of listening to some soppy tales about Joyce getting embarrassed at a birthday party or listening to her sing, how about we bang on the doors of those who should be hanging their heads in shame right about now?
The biggest question that remains unanswered though, other than what she ever saw in Martin (to be fair, his sudden realisation at the end is heartbreaking), is if she had become so forgotten, who were those Christmas presents for? Yes, it may have its faults, but Dreams of a Life is chilling, utterly compelling, and will haunt you for days.” DW