Dreams of a Life, Greenwich Picturehouse 24 December


This film is about Joyce Vincent, a woman who died alone in her flat around Christmas 2003 and remained undiscovered until 2006.  Since she was apparently a popular clever pretty young woman it was difficult for it not to be unbearably affecting.  But the film managed to deaden its impact by a confusion of approaches.  We had interviews with people who had known Joyce (friends, flatmates, colleagues–not her family).  We had reconstructions of scenes from her life and of the grisly process of clearing up her flat.  We had something of ‘Desperately seeking Joyce’ in the form of a whiteboard attempting to piece together her life and a taxi driving around with an advert appealing for information on its side.

I think that what you need is hard facts containing raw emotion, but there was neither here.  It would have been possible to at least establish what she did for a living and when–instead we were left in confusion as to whether she had a responsible position in the Treasury Department or was she just a secretary?  I suppose establishing the facts might have been a little difficult in the face of determined obstruction from her family.  But surely not impossible.

Then the film ended with a reconstruction of her last hours, but since they hadn’t decided what they thought had happened to her it wasn’t very convincing.  T S Eliot did it a lot better:

When lovely woman stoops to folly and
Paces about her room again, alone,
She smoothes her hair with automatic hand,
And puts a record on the gramophone.

In fact, Joyce Vincent seems to have been an absolutely typical heroine out of Jean Rhys, which once more gives me the feeling that this has been done before as well as better.

The question of time continues to worry me.  We learn that Joyce Vincent was 38 when she dies in 2003, so she was born in 1965.  The former boyfriend who relates holding a 21st party for her and then regrets not having saved her when she stayed with him later on is surely being too guilty–assuming she was in her mid-20s when they broke up that was ten years in the past.  More importantly perhaps, the colleagues and acquaintances interviewed are more or less Joyce Vincent’s contemporaries so they look pretty bad when contrasted with a beautiful 27-year-old actress in Zawe Ashton.

It is just not the case that the very young woman we saw being  played by Ashton died alone in her flat.  First of all she got older and at an age when she might have learned better she had a relationship with a violent man so that she was in a Women’s Refuge and then in her final flat.  So I feel the film is just being dishonest–it insists on showing us a beautiful young woman to engage our sympathy.

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