THE SILENT TWINS
The real-life story of twin sisters June and Jennifer Gibbons continuously confounds psychologists and curious onlookers alike. As young girls from Barbados whose father transferred for work, they were the only Black family in their Wales neighborhood. The girls experienced insurmountable isolation and bullying. As a result, they turned inward, refusing to speak to anyone other than each other, and exhibited succinct behavior, almost catatonic at times. With each passing year, The Gibbons sisters enigmatic relationship wreaked havoc on their families, communities, and each other. The Silent Twins creatively illustrate their experiences. Theirs is a story that baffles the world.
The only time they spoke aloud was in their bedroom, as they created magnificent plays, poems, and short stories. The Silent Twins utilizes mixed media stop motion animation to illustrate the girls’ elaborate writing. When you hear their diary entries, you soon realize their astonishing level of intellect.
Following their dismissal from school, the girls enter a specialized education program (which later proved useless), followed by separate residential schools. June struggles to adjust due to the separation, becoming despondent. Once reunited, things regress to the status quo in their childhood bedroom for the next few years.
The dynamic between the two is clear; Jennifer exerts all power over June. Adolescent jealousy brings a new level of vengeful animosity to Jennifer and June’s relationship. Jennifer’s infatuation with an influential bad boy brings drugs and pyromania into their lives. The consequences of these behaviors lead them to their eleven-year admission to Broadmoor Hospital. The publication of June’s book further drives their competitive nature.
*SPOILER ALERT* If you’d like to stay in the dark about the story, skip the following paragraph!!
The Gibbons made a pact in childhood stating that if one of them died, the other should begin to speak and live a “normal life.” On the day of their release from Broadmoor, Jennifer passes away in the transport van. While the circumstances did not sit well with anyone, her autopsy would later reveal a case of undiagnosed myocarditis. Rather than sink into grief, the death of Jennifer frees June from a lifelong emotional and physical prison.
** Continue below…
Performances from Letitia Wright and Tamara Larance will blow you away. Their vocal specificity is imperative to understanding the real-life twins’ dialect and speech patterns. Their volatile chemistry jumps off the screen. Each actress has their time to shine.
Prior knowledge of this bizarre case proved to be a blessing and a curse. A few things felt stylistically superfluous, especially a runtime of nearly 2 hours. I almost wish this haunting tale were a touch more straightforward. The stop-motion sequences are such a powerful device that the added songs and whimsical choreography appear overkill. I’m unsure if The Silent Twins works as a whole. Perhaps, a viewer with zero previous understanding of The Gibbons’ strange existence might come to a different conclusion. If you fall into that category, I recommend going into the film blind. Either way, director Agnieszka Smoczynska displays a unique vision of two mind-boggling women.
Silence was their bond. Imagination set them free.
Letitia Wright and Tamara Lawrance star in #TheSilentTwins, only in theaters September 16.