The Movie Waffler New to VOD - THE SILENT TWINS | The Movie Waffler


The story of Jennifer and June Gibbons, who came to be known as "The Silent Twins."

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Agnieszka Smoczynska

Starring: Letitia Wright, Tamara Lawrance, Leah Mondesir-Simmonds, Eva-Arianna Baxter, Jodhi May, Michael Smiley

The Silent Twins poster

Some filmmakers make films in an attempt to give a voice to the voiceless. Nowhere is there more literal than in Polish director Agnieszka Smoczyńska's English language debut The Silent Twins. Working with screenwriter Andrea Seigel, Smoczyńska tells the story of Jennifer (played by Eva-Arianna Baxter as a child and Tamara Lawrance as a teen) and June Gibbons (Leah Mondesir-Simmonds and Letitia Wright), identical twin sisters born in Wales to parents from Barbados in 1963. At a young age the twins stopped talking to anyone but themselves and spent most of their time in their shared bedroom where they churned out works of fiction, displaying a talent beyond their years.

The Silent Twins review

The Gibbons' story is a tragic one, a tale of outsiders who became victims of a cruel era. After being shipped through various schools throughout their teens, the girls began to flourish creatively when they turned 18, pooling their money to buy a typewriter and self-publishing a novel about a boy who drinks 300 bottles of Pepsi a day. It was at this time that they began to interact with the outside world through a relationship with a pair of unruly teenage American brothers. Thus began their descent into petty crime, culminating in an act of arson which led to their indefinite detention in England's infamous Broadmoor psychiatric institute, then home to some of the country's most infamous killers, including the Yorkshire Ripper, Peter Sutcliffe.

Smoczyńska celebrates the uniqueness of her subjects while damning the uncaring society they were unfortunate to find themselves part of. The first half of the movie plays like a rather joyous coming-of-age story, albeit with unconventional protagonists. We're swept up in Jennifer and June's ambitions to become writers, and we share their delight as they slowly make advances towards what might have been a viable career in better circumstances. Their doomed romance is similarly presented as exciting, as Smoczyńska presents it from the POV of two young girls finding their first love rather than a scornful adult looking back with hindsight.

The Silent Twins review

By the time the girls are interred in Broadmoor we've come to know and like them so much that we feel the full weight of the tragedy. We're left to curse a system that would rather lock up someone they find troublesome than put in the hard work of trying to understand them. There's a cruel irony to how the twins were caught by the police through the confessional writings in their diary, their words damning them when they should have been elevating them.

In reality the twins were identical but Smoczyńska has wisely opted not to cast identical twins or to use CG to clone a single actress. Being able to visually distinguish June from Jennifer allows us to invest in their different personalities from the off, rather than spending much of the film trying to figure out which twin is which at any particular point. Lawrence and Wright are excellent as the teenage twins, as are Baxter and Mondesir-Simmonds as their younger counterparts. The Gibbons sisters spoke with a sibilant speech impediment, something which could have come off as tacky were it not recreated so well by the four actresses (interviews with June are available online if you have a hard time believing that's how they really spoke).

The Silent Twins review

Along with the standard biopic storytelling, Smoczyńska integrates elements of the various fantastical stories the girls conjured up, giving us magic realist images like that of a teenage boy drowning in a pool of Pepsi. 1970s style stop-motion animation is employed to realise some of their darker stories. It's a great choice, as I've always found that style to be indefinably melancholy, and here it feels influenced by the likes of Bagpuss, the sort of British childrens' TV shows that likely would have had an impact on Jennifer and June in their youth. Bagpuss was a series about lost toys waiting to be claimed, with the titular cloth cat described as "a bit loose at the seams." I don’t know if Smoczyńska had Bagpuss in mind, but it's certainly a clear allegory for the tragic plight of Jennifer and June Gibbons.

The Silent Twins
 is on UK/ROI VOD now.