THE STORY – June and Jennifer Gibbons are twins from the only Black family in a small town in Wales in the 1970s and ’80s. Feeling isolated from the community, the pair turn inward and reject communication with everyone but each other, retreating into their own fantasy world of inspiration and adolescent desires. After a spree of vandalism, the girls are sentenced to Broadmoor, an infamous psychiatric hospital, where they face the choice to separate and survive or die together.
THE CAST – Letitia Wright, Jodhi May & Michael Smiley
THE TEAM – Agnieszka Smoczynska (Director) & Andrea Seigel (Writer)
THE RUNNING TIME – 113 Minutes
It can be quite a daunting task to invite an audience on a journey to connect with characters that can potentially be disagreeable. A formidable challenge will always be present that keeps one at arm’s length from fully investing in such a commitment. It’s difficult for many to reach a level of empathy that allows for such a methodology to be effective. The characters at the heart of “The Silent Twins” can often be confounding to the viewer and those within this tale who struggle to tolerate their presence. It’s a recipe for a demanding and laborious exercise. At many points, the film does strain in this endeavor. However, it also highlights some engaging performances and vibrant imagery that make it a particularly compelling character study.
June and Jennifer Gibbons are two young sisters who are inseparable. The twins have wild imaginations that fuel their creativity with a jovial aura. However, these emotions are only ever shown to one another. In the vicinity of any other person, including family members, they become as silent as the grave and steely reserved. Given their nonexistent interactions, it causes significant issues in their schooling. Eventually, they return home to live out their isolated existence. Yet even with their crippling social anxiety, a spark of ambition lingers within. As teenagers, June (Letitia Wright) and Jennifer (Tamara Lawrence) set their sights on publishing their fiercely inventive writings. This forces them to gain a hunger for life experience, pushing them beyond their normally accustomed boundaries into a plethora of novel scenarios. That is until this quest turns insidious and forces them onto a dark path that consumes whatever innocence was held.
It’s remarkable how director Agnieszka Smoczynska crafts this intimate yet imposing tale, indulging in captivating imagery that showcases these characters’ vivid emotional perspectives. One can sense it in only flashes at first when their younger selves escape into more colorful environments when making secret radio plays or imagining their stories as stop-motion sequences. As their world expands, so does the vibrancy of these peculiar sensations. The impact is more keenly sensed when juxtaposed against the harsher realities, which only become more predominant as they descend into criminality and eventually become institutionalized in a mental facility. The joy and melancholy are beautifully rendered in the filmmaking, along with a haunting score and inspired soundtrack. The latter has great poignancy as some selections are adapted from the twins’ original works. Smoczynska infuses an intriguing atmosphere with a foreboding nature that conflicts with jubilant discoveries, which is achieved in a very engrossing manner.
The screenplay from Andrea Seigel is a more unruly figure. It often finds the tender moments between these two unique individuals, displaying the deep bond they share as well as the complicated rivalry that festers between them. Still, there’s an awkwardness to the initial presentation that keeps the finer details of the real-life backstory more obscured. The writing can also be blunt, which suits the directorial choices a lot more than what’s on the page. The overall flow of the storytelling feels trapped in an episodic rhythm and abruptly transitions between the scenes. The cathartic conclusions are still potent on a profound level, but the execution can come across as sudden and curt. One wishes a more deft hand was designing the script, even though it fulfills the basic functions that are necessary and efficient.
The performances from Wright and Lawrence are what carry every frame of this film, and there is an endearing element they possess that draws one into the story, even when faced against what could be seen as off-putting personalities. Both embody a prickly tenderness that is also layered and dynamic, perfectly in tune with the film’s tone. Between them, Lawrence is slightly more impressive with a more nuanced role, but both manage to take what could be histrionic and overly mannered and find the true humanity at the core. The same is said for Leah Mondesir-Simmonds and Eva-Arianna Baxter as the young June and Jennifer, respectively. They capture an alluring chemistry that is absorbing as much as their adult counterparts, and they demonstrate great talent in their debut roles. The rest of the ensemble is satisfactory but leaves little impression outside of the two leads, which is entirely intentional.
There is a magic to “The Silent Twins” that forges a meaningful attachment to this strange realm of heightened senses. The filmmaking exquisitely evokes this artistry and is successful in spite of the drabber foundation of the screenplay. Even though the writing is by far the film’s weakest aspect, this examination of lonesome figures with an unyielding spirit that succumbs to unmanaged indulgence is enthralling all the way through. With gripping performances at the center, this portrait may feel uneasy at times but is constantly riveting through its visionary perspective.