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Adrian Watson
Adrian Watson

The Silent Twins TOP

Parents need to know that The Silent Twins is a challenging drama based on the real story of identical twins Jennifer (Tamara Lawrance) and June (Letitia Wright) Gibbons, who created an insular world for themselves and wouldn't communicate with anyone else. The film -- which is set in 1960s and '70s Wales -- has moments of violence, including intense physical fighting, attempted death by suicide, bullying, arson, and more. Scenes of the sisters being separated and institutionalized are upsetting, as are some of the animated sequences. There's also strong language ("f--k," "c--k," etc.), sexual situations, and partial nudity (from the waist up). Characters smoke and use drugs.

The Silent Twins

THE SILENT TWINS tells the true story of June and Jennifer Gibbons (Letitia Wright and Tamara Lawrance), identical twins who become increasingly insular as they face bullying at school in 1960s and '70s Wales. The girls develop their own dialect and write stories together, but they don't talk to or engage with the outside world. The film follows the twins as they grow up, engage in relationships and crime, and experience a bitter departure from each other.

The Silent Twins uses unique storytelling choices to tell the story of the Gibbons twins, who created an insular world for themselves to live in as an escape from the outside world. But their bizarre, fascinating story could have been handled much more deftly, and that's frustrating. The film's focus on the twins' fantasy world and their imaginations, which they eventually channeled into novel-writing, could have made for a great, emotionally resonant film (doubly so, since the twins were bullied for being from an immigrant family from Barbados). But for all of the film's focus on the twins' rich inner life, there's never a full exploration of their individual feelings, motivations, and goals.

Overall, The Silent Twins' success, such that it is, rests entirely on Wright and Lawrance, who give the characters a depth beyond what exists in the script. Indeed, in terms of just writing, the film treats June and Jennifer as static objects, building blocks for much more interesting film ideas and techniques. That's unfair to the Gibbons' fascinating story. And while the twins' "romantic" situations are important to them as a means of acquiring life experiences, the scenarios not only feel predatory and skeevy but also strangely focused on the White gaze. Perhaps that's to make a point: that the Gibbons family was racially and culturally isolated. So perhaps the point is that Jennifer and June were trying to find acceptance through romance? Maybe. But was that plot point necessary? Probably not, especially since viewers don't really know the purpose for it. At the end of the day, The Silent Twins is interesting and boasts amazing performances, but the threadbare storyline does the Gibbons twins a disservice.

In fiction there are lots of scary twins. Just think of those creepy little girls in The Shining. In the real world, most twins consider themselves lucky to have a companion who shares their genes and their history. But for some twins, like Jennifer and June Gibbons, that unique bond becomes more of a curse. In the end, June and Jennifer decided one of them would have to die so the other one could go on living.

In her biography, Wallace reports that in Broadmoor the twins decided one of them would have to die so the other could live. Jennifer, the stronger twin, agreed to be the sacrifice in this fatal pact.

Institutionalized at age 19 at the notorious Broadmoor, a high-security psychiatric hospital where as the youngest patients ever admitted they again regressed into their silent world, and at times again engaging even in violence against each other. Over the course of 11 years they were apart, together, but stuck until journalist Marjorie Wallace (played by Jodhi May) heard about their story and found a way to gain their trust, conducting several interviews with them at Broadmoor that eventually became a celebrated piece for the Times of London, and later the basis of her book, The Silent Twins.

Based on the lives of June and Jennifer Gibbons, real-life identical twins who grew up in Wales and became known as "the silent twins" because of their refusal to communicate with anyone other than each other. (R, 113 min.)

Director Agnieszka Smoczynska's movie The Silent Twins is the latest pop culture meditation on the lives of June and Jennifer Gibbons, Black identical twins who were incarcerated in England's notorious Broadmoor psychiatric hospital from 1982 until 1993 after a brief rash of petty crimes and arson. Even before that, they confounded their parents, siblings, teachers, and assorted experts in Wales, where they grew up, by refusing to speak and moving in eerie synchronicity.

Investigative journalist Marjorie Wallace(Opens in a new tab) first wrote about the twins in The Sunday Times in 1982, and national interest followed. With the support of June and Jennifer's parents, who provided access to the twins' massive archive, and experts like Tim Thomas, an educational psychiatrist who taught them at Eastgate Centre for Special Educationin Pembroke and who remains in touch with June-Alison today, as well as her own ongoing relationship with the twins, Wallace expanded her article into the 1986 book The Silent Twins. Now out of print but available as an e-book(Opens in a new tab), it offers an overwhelming insight into the twins' explosive creativity, humor, and pain.

The fascination around the twins only grew after Jennifer mysteriously and suddenly died(Opens in a new tab) the day they were transferred from Broadmoor to a clinic in Wales(Opens in a new tab), which would allow them more personal freedom. June and Jennifer Gibbons have remained an object of fascination among anyone interested in the cross-section of outsider art, twinship, mental illness, and systemic racism in the '70s and '80s in the United Kingdom. Even now, the twins' life story is fodder for low-budget true crime shows and podcasts, along with various short and longform documentaries(Opens in a new tab), and even a French rock(Opens in a new tab) opera(Opens in a new tab).

Smoczynska first became attached to the film adaptation when screenwriter Andrea Seigel saw her breakout film The Lure(Opens in a new tab), a glittery, bloody rock musical about man-eating mermaid siblings whose love for each other is tested when one falls in love with a human man. Seigel got in touch and sent her the script she'd been working on for some time, which is based on Wallace's work and informed by the available media by and about the twins.

Their story is tragic, to be sure. They were failed by almost everyone around them, from the vicious bullying they endured at the hands of white students to the racism they encountered in the educational, medical, and carceral systems they were swept away in. Even their most sympathetic allies weren't above suspecting that the twins were just being irascible or making fun of them.

In addition to stop-motion animation, there are also dazzling fantasy scenes with choreographed dancers and swimmers; the twins dressed smartly and signing piles of books for fans; the two DJing a hit radio show; and a love scene in a garage, where Jennifer imagines flowers blooming all around her. Then the perspective shifts, pulling away to reveal June-Alison's point of view from where she's hunched, hiding in the corner.

Most of all, Smoczynska wanted to show the twins as three-dimensional people, beyond how they'd been portrayed in the media. "They're not victims or not only victims," she reflected, "They were very powerful, sensitive. And they were artists."

*(While June-Alison currently lives a private life, her novel The Pepsi Cola Addict is being rereleased with a new introduction and art by the author, courtesy of multihyphenate cult artist/musician David Tibet(Opens in a new tab) and his partner Ania Goszczyńska, with a trade paperback coming in 2023. All proceeds are going to June-Alison. Her Instagram account, which is handled by Tibet and Goszczyńska, also teases Jennifer's thought-to-be-lost Discomania and a poetry collection by June-Alison. For those interested in the twins' writing or so-called "outsider art" in general, this could not be more tremendous news.)

"The Silent Twins" is at its best when it just lets Smoczyńska bring the twins' world of imagination to life. Much in the way "The Lure" exuded style and confidence, using genre to tell a relatively simple story, "The Silent Twins" moves through different genres and even mediums to tell the Gibbons' story. Whether it's puppetry or stop-motion animation, the film replicates many of the sisters' unpublished short stories in a grim fashion, including a rather bleak one with a surprise connection to "Fullmetal Alchemist." The film even has a couple of musical numbers written by "The Lure" lyricist Zuzanna Wronska, which incorporate the twins' writing place the audience in the mind of the twins and understand just a little of how they saw the world.

The Silent Twins is the 2022 docudrama film based on the 1986 true-life documentary book written by journalist Marjorie Wallace, who spent time with the twins while they were incarcerated in Broadmoor, a high-security psychiatric hospital for the criminally insane. The film was directed by Agnieszka Smoczyńska from a screenplay written by Andrea Seigel.

The Silent Twins stars Letitia Wright known for her role in Black Panther, and Tamara Lawrance, formerly starring in Kindred, as June and Jennifer Gibbons. It also stars Jodhi May as Marjorie Wallace. May is perhaps most well-known for her role as Alice in The Last of the Mohicans. Marjorie Wallace was the daring young journalist who brought the story of the twins and their unique form of selective mutism out of the confines of Broadmoor and out to the world. The stunning performances and deliberately dreary settings of The Silent Twins bring the film a sense of brooding misery that helps the viewer to feel the desperation of the fiercely self-controlled world of Jennifer and June. 041b061a72


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