Gemma Creagh shouts about Agnieszka Smoczynsk’s latest offering, The Silent Twins.
Based on real events, The Silent Twins tells the deeply strange true story of two sisters who grew up in Wales in the 1960s. Born to immigrants from Barbados, June (Letitia Wright) and Jennifer Gibbons (Yamara Lawrance) won’t speak in public. Keeping their heads down when addressed directly, the twins only interact with one another, their odd behaviours drawing ridicule from other children and causing friction within the Gibbons’ household. Eventually the pair are moved to a special school, where educational psychologist Tim Thomas (Michael Smiley) and his team try to get through to the pair – with little success.
When the twins are alone, however, these two quite different young women converse freely, building their own rich, imaginative private world. June and Jennifer depart on – often misguided – internal flights of fancy. As they grow older, they decide they want to become writers and to do this, they must first experience romance. This takes the form of drug-fueled interludes with local bad boy Wayne Kennedy (Jack Bandeira). Over these years, June and Jennifer’s deep bond begins to tip over into something darker and after a run-in with the law, the pair face the injustices of the UK penal system.
What director Agnieszka Smoczynsk does in this Polish co-production so beautifully in The Silent Twins is celebrate the humanity of these two women, embracing their story, utilising her unique visual style and nods to magic realism. She handles this subject matter with a deft hand, and creates the space for strong, accurate performances representing the Gibbons sisters across all ages. Leah Mondesir-Simmonds as young June against Eva-Arianna Baxter as Jennifer in these breakout roles, capture the depth and playful nature of the pair. This in turn sets Wright and Lawrance up to capture the depths and complexities of their relationship, one that comes at a high cost to them both in those later years. The film’s use of animation sequences, while initially jarring, do eventually earn their place within the story, while the accomplished production design across the eras really help to sell the Polish locations as Wales.
The Silent Twins suffers from the same issues that most true stories face – in that the reality can’t be structured into the neatly tied bows that fiction allows for. And it does stay very close to the emotional truth of the pair, right down to the fact that a great deal of the dialogue and music are based on the writings of the twins themselves. The portrayals, especially the distinct diction of the duo, are a close match to the archival footage of the Gibbons sisters growing up. However, there’s no unifying theme or clear answers – let alone a satisfying resolution.
Nevertheless, the lives of June and Jennifer Gibbons do make for a compelling watch and teamed with such solid performances mean The Silent Twins is an impressive cinematic accomplishment.
The Silent Twins is in cinemas from 9th December 2022.