Dreams of a Life

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Dreams of a Life
Dreams of a life.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byCarol Morley
Written byCarol Morley
Produced byCairo Cannon
StarringZawe Ashton
Distributed byDogwoof Pictures
Release date
  • 16 December 2011 (2011-12-16) (UK)
Running time
95 minutes
CountriesUnited Kingdom
Box office£187,513[1]

Dreams of a Life is a 2011 drama-documentary film, released by Dogwoof Pictures, directed by Carol Morley and starring Zawe Ashton as Joyce Carol Vincent, a London woman whose remains were discovered in her home in 2006, just over two years after she had died.


The film tells the story of Joyce Carol Vincent, whose skeletal remains were found in her flat in Wood Green, North London, in January 2006. Joyce was found surrounded by wrapped Christmas gifts and with her TV still switched on, having remained undiscovered since December 2003.[2] Due to advanced decomposition, the cause of death was unable to be determined.

The film features interviews with various friends, acquaintances, former partners and individuals involved in the developing news story, including Vincent's MP, Lynne Featherstone, in an attempt to tell the story of Joyce, who is played in reconstructions by Ashton. Vincent's father is played by Cornell John.[3]

The film confronts issues such as loneliness, even while living in one of the busiest cities, how loss of contact with family and friends can cause no one to notice a missing relative or friend, and how a body can go unnoticed in a room feet away from a busy street, without repercussions from unpaid rent and utilities.[4]


Director Carol Morley was inspired to make the documentary on Joyce's life after reading an article in a tabloid newspaper which she found discarded on the London Underground, which while describing Vincent failed to mention her age, race or any detailed information.[4] She spent the next 5 years tracking down interviewees by taking out ads in newspapers, and hiring a cab to drive around London bearing a poster asking people to contact her if they knew Joyce.[5] She was surprised to learn that many of the respondents did not know Joyce was dead until she spoke to them even though some of them remembered hearing of her death when it was reported on in newspapers. One of the first respondents to Morley's advert was Martin, who features prominently in the film, an ex-partner and one-time close friend who was able to provide photographs for Morley. Martin then put her in touch with other friends, including an ex-landlord, ex-partner and friend who had recorded her singing in his studio.[6]

Morley was criticized for an extended fictionalized sequence that featured Zawe Ashton as Joyce performing the song A Smile is Just a Frown[citation needed]. She stated that she was inspired to keep the sequence in the film by a similar sequence in Agnès Varda's Cléo from 5 to 7 and also credited Varda's documentary work with inspiring much of her movie[citation needed].

Morley was also in contact with Joyce's four sisters, all of whom refused to be in the film.[7] Although they asked Morley not to make the film, she went ahead with production, but gave them an advance screening in order to show that she had been respectful in remembering their sister.


The film received a rating of 62 on aggregate movie review website Metacritic and 74% on Rotten Tomatoes, indicating an overall positive reception.[8][9]

Despite some 'lukewarm' reviews on its release, The Guardian described it as "empathic, brave, clever, haunting",[4] while The New York Times reflected on the frustrating nature of the story only half told.[6] The Telegraph described the film as a "tender, thoughtful and celebratory homage to Vincent’s life".[10]

Steven Wilson's album Hand. Cannot. Erase. was inspired by his viewing of the movie.[11]

Paloma Faith's song "Lost and Lonely" from the album The Architect was written and recorded in response to seeing Dreams of a Life.[12]


  1. ^ "Dreams of a Life (2012) - International Box Office Results - Box Office Mojo". boxofficemojo.com.
  2. ^ Morley, Carol (9 October 2011). "Joyce Carol Vincent: How could this young woman lie dead and undiscovered for almost three years?". The Observer. Guardian Media Group. Retrieved 7 February 2013.
  3. ^ "Dreams of a Life Full Cast & Crew". IMDb. Retrieved 21 February 2019.
  4. ^ a b c Walker, Peter. "The film that makes me cry: Dreams of a Life". The Guardian. Retrieved 21 February 2019.
  5. ^ Smith, D. "Carol Morley, Dreams of a Life". Retrieved 28 August 2015.
  6. ^ a b Holden, Stephen. "Lost to Her Friends, but There All the Time". New York Times. Retrieved 21 February 2019.
  7. ^ "Watch a video of 'Dreams of a Life' director Carol Morley chatting to filmmaker Kevin Macdonald". Retrieved 28 August 2015.
  8. ^ "Dreams of a Life". Retrieved 28 August 2015.
  9. ^ "DREAMS OF A LIFE (2012)". Retrieved 28 August 2015.
  10. ^ McNullty, Bernadette. "Dreams of a Life: interview with director Carol Morley". The Telegraph. Retrieved 21 February 2019.
  11. ^ "Steven Wilson at Air Studios - Part 2: Concept and Inspiration - Steven Wilson". 4 November 2014.
  12. ^ Radio 4 interview with Richard Coles 16 May 2020 | url=https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/m000j7g7

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