Carol Morley’s haunting film about the life of Joyce Carol Vincent who was discovered in her flat 3 years after she died, is a must-see. Morley felt she had to make the film after reading an article in the Sun newspaper with the headline ‘Woman lays dead for three years’. Joyce Carol Vincent was just 38 when she died, presumably of natural causes although we’ll never know for sure as the body was too badly decomposed for forensics to reach a conclusive result. Morley doggedly unravels Vincent’s life despite the overwhelming enigma of her existence. What we’re left with is a sad testament to someone who existed on the surface, always beautifully dressed, never a hair out of place, keen to be liked and inevitably pursued by male suitors wherever she went yet apparently rootless, someone who died without anyone wondering where she’d gone. According to the newspaper report she died at Christmas with a pile of wrapped presents next to her (for whom? We’ll never know) yet not one person wondered what had happened to her.

Above anything, Vincent’s life was shrouded in mystery. Why did she tell people her father was dead when he actually outlived her by two years? Why was she so keen to fit in to other people’s lives? Her two boyfriends both mention how she took on their lives and friends like a chameleon, yet appeared to have no friends or interests of her own. No one ever met her family, yet she had 3 sisters (who refused to take part in the film). She worked but not one of her friends could really pinpoint exactly what she did, only towards the end of her life when she was down on her luck and camped out on her first boyfriend’s sofa in his one bedroom flat for half a year, he inadvertently discovered a payslip which listed her occupation as cleaner.

A mysterious end for a beautiful girl who’d had dreams of a singing career and who’d at various times had access to famous and influential people, even at one point meeting Nelson Mandela.

Watching this film, which is difficult to watch in so many ways, you’re left feeling uneasy, not least how much of an imprint we actually make on life. Or how much we can be bothered to care about others. On paper Vincent had so much of what seems important in today’s world, looks, vivacity, a decent singing voice, yet it all mounted up to so little when you listened to the recollections. Of her so-called friends, none of them really appeared to have really known her. Her ex, Martin, is the only one who seem haunted by his loss – regretting not having the guts to marry her in spite his dads warning of the ‘coloured’ babies that would entail. Maybe if he’d overcome his cowardice, Joyce Carol Vincent would still be alive.

UK release date 16th December 2011

Words by Anna Bang

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anna bang, Carol Morley, Dreams of a Life, Joyce Carol Vincent,