Staff Reviews: Dreams of a Life by Lucy Pickering, Front of House Assistant

The poster for this film has been unsettling me for a few weeks at Phoenix Square. How could a young woman lie dead in a London flat for 3 years without anyone – family, friends, and colleagues – noticing she was missing?

Starting from the end, the film combines dramatisation and interviews with people who knew Joyce Vincent; mostly old flatmates, ex-colleagues, local journalists and a couple of ex boyfriends. Through these director Carol Morley creates a timeline from Joyce’s childhood to the last days of her life, giving the audience a sense of what she was like and inevitably creating a narrative from the (often contradictory) pieces of information given in the interviews.

The interviewees paint Joyce as an attractive, bright, outgoing and gentle woman.  Somebody who people would gravitate towards, and even aspire to be like.

I was particularly looking forward to seeing Zawe Ashton’s performance on the big screen, after seeing her on stage (in Salome at Curve) and on TV (in Channel 4’s Fresh Meat). She embodies the descriptions of Joyce Vincent from the interviews in an often eerie and lonely performance, in which she barely speaks to anyone else.

Joyce was brought up by her four sisters after her mother’s death when she was 11. As an adult she moved constantly all over London, often drifting in and out of friendships and relationships and at times deciding to completely insulate herself. One interviewee described her as not having her own interests but adapting to the lives of her partners, adopting their friends and interests. With unfulfilled dreams of being a singer, she had ‘respectable’ office jobs, but never seemed to stay at them for very long. Another particularly poignant description of Joyce is as ‘a woman who didn’t have a past and didn’t have a future.’

The film is darkly fascinating as the audience pieces together the parts of her life, trying to make sense of her tragedy. Even when depicting Joyce at her happiest, it inevitably has an undertone of sadness. One of the most moving scenes is a comparatively long shot of Joyce (Ashton) wearing a tight dress and singing into a hairbrush ‘My Smile is Just a Frown Turned Upside Down’ by Carolyn Crawford.

This cinematic adaptation of Joyce’s story is tragic. She wasn’t an elderly woman with no remaining family or friends living in the middle of nowhere. It is almost unfathomable that in this age of surveillance, a woman could just fall off the radar.

I think everyone has moments of feeling lost or lonely and this film will make even the most self-assured reflect on their lives and relationships. You go into this film with so many questions and while the mystery around Joyce’s death remains unresolved, Morley’s film opens up lines of enquiry and effectively humanises her story.

Lucy Pickering is a Front of House assistant at Phoenix Square and Media Officer at Curve theatre. In addition to film and theatre her loves include music, cycling and gingerbread. @misslucy_p

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