Unique true stories turned into movies have always intrigued me. I find myself looking up details beyond what is presented. The story of June and Jennifer Gibbons, Welsh twins born to Caribbean immigrants in the 1960s, goes beyond mystery and into psychological. The girls were harshly bullied and ostracized because of their race in a mostly white neighborhood. Because of this, the two withdrew into each other and into their own world, where they created wild and imaginative stories. They became selective mutes and spoke only to each other. Director Agnieszka Smoczynska creates their worlds – one in reality and the other in their imaginations, and while there are some keen directing aspects, The Silent Twins struggles to stay grounded and often feels disjointed and awkward.
The film, an adaptation of the book by Marjorie Wallace and written for the screen by Andrea Siegel, follows June (Letitia Wright) and Jennifer (Tamara Lawrence) from their childhood to adulthood as their extremely inward lives develop in hyper-negative ways as they mature. Wright and Lawrence do an outstanding job, but Smoczynska doesn’t follow a distinct timeline and chooses instead to hop around between reality and the girls’ fantasies. Making matters worse, she tosses in some time jumps, too, that only serve to give the film a disjointed feel.
The story relies mainly on the girls (the actresses) and their extraordinary relationship with the world around them, each other, and the decisions they make. The direction Smoczynska takes with the film limits the opportunity to truly understand the deep bond between the sisters and helps us understand the what and why behind their silence. Indeed, there is indisputable creativeness in Smoczynska’s visual and allegorical aspects, but she never really gives the film and the sisters a clear “voice.” Certainly, the girls warrant our curiosity and perhaps even sympathy but the disjointed way she presents her subject matter fails to deliver.
The Silent Twins works hard at telling this story. If one can look past the way it is broken up and disjointed – particularly in the strange stop-motion animation – the lives of these unusual women intrigue. Behind closed doors, they live in a remarkable world, but we are only allowed a fragmented glimpse. I am placing two stars up top for this one. Kudos to the young actresses who embody these peculiar women.