Letitia Wright and Tamara Lawrance star in The Silent Twins as June and Jennifer Gibbons, the sisters who only communicated with each other. Here’s our review.
The story of June and Jennifer Gibbons, the silent twins, is a tragic one. The sisters only communicated with each other, using their silence as a protest and a way to create a barrier between them and the world.
They were sent to Broadmoor, a psychiatric facility known to house people with some of the most severe cases of mental illness, when they were 19 and were held there for 11 years.
Polish director Agnieszka Smoczyńska attempts, and sometimes succeeds, in translating June and Jennifer’s story onto the big screen, but it’s a story that requires more time and nuance that is possible to give with a feature film.
The film begins when the sisters are young. They isolate themselves in their room at home and they’re bullied at school, prompting the school to suggest they might need education from a facility more prepared to deal with them.
As they grow up, June (Letitia Wright) and Jennifer (Tamara Lawrance) refuse to socialise and communicate, until they meet an American boy, Wayne (Jack Bandeira). Their budding relationship with Wayne sends them on a destructive path that sees them sent to Broadmoor.
The Silent Twins is like a coming-of-age film gone wrong. What’s normally a heart-wrenching tale of the inevitable clash of youth and adulthood takes the shape of almost a thriller here. June and Jennifer do come of age; they experiment with drugs and alcohol, have sex and rebel.
But their story, as dictated by history, is ultimately a tragic one. There is much suffering in The Silent Twins and Smoczyńska is keen on showcasing just how oppressed and misunderstood they were by society and their medical team.
Smoczyńska also makes sure we glimpse their artistic endeavours. Keen writers with rich imaginations, the Gibbons sisters submitted several novels for consideration to publication houses and June even had one published. The film is peppered with stop-motion animated sequences to further highlight their rich, vivid inner lives.
Wright, already so impressive in Black Panther: Wakanda Forever and Aisha, is once again remarkable here, as is Tamara Lawrance. Their committed performances really make The Silent Twins. There’s a lot of care and affection to be found in the film, from Wright, Lawrence and Smoczyńska.
June and Jennifer’s story would have made a better TV series. While Smoczyńska and screenwriter Andrea Seigel, who wrote the script based on Marjorie Wallace’s book on the sisters, make sure to mention that there is no reason for the twins to be how they are. Their mother remarks that nothing bad ever happened to them. As babies, they were happy and giggled and their family life is portrayed as stable and loving, if slightly burdened by the twins’ alienation from the rest of the family.
You simply can’t cover their entire story and its complex nuances to do with mental health and race in less than 120 minutes. Smoczyńska clearly has wanted to bring justice to June and Jennifer through The Silent Twins, but the film sometimes comes across cold, lacking an emotional core.
The Silent Twins is in cinemas 9 December.