Dreams of Life (12A)

Starring: Zawe Ashton, Jonathan Harden
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The Independent Culture

How long would it take for someone to notice you were missing? Hours, days, weeks? In the case of Joyce Carol Vincent, a 38-year-old Londoner, it was three years: she was found dead in her flat, surrounded by half-wrapped Christmas presents with the TV still on.

Her body had decomposed so badly it wasn't even possible to tell how she had died. Director Carol Morley spotted the story in a newspaper in 2003 and went digging for clues to Joyce's life, interviewing friends, colleagues and flatmates. The Vincent family, unsurprisingly, refused to co-operate. The young woman who emerges from this patchwork is attractive, vivacious, well-liked, though also vulnerable and secretive, with a tendency to batten on other people's friends rather than make any of her own. In her thirties she appears to have been involved in an abusive relationship and dropped off most friends' radars. The singing career she hoped for fell by the wayside, and her last known employment was as a cleaner. Morley mingles photographs and archive footage with drama-doc vignettes of Joyce, played by Zawe Ashton, though it is the first-person testimonies, baffled and disbelieving, that rivet the attention. This is a painfully sad portrait of an atomised society in which people may slip through the cracks into oblivion, but more haunting still are the unresolved personal mysteries: given Joyce had lost touch with almost everyone, who were those Christmas presents for?