The Silent Twins, 2022.
Directed by Agnieszka Smoczynska.
Starring Letitia Wright, Tamara Lawrance, Jack Bandeira, Jordan J Gallagher, Julian R. Booth, Tony Richardson, Martin Hugh Henley, Leah Mondesir-Simmonds, Eva-Arianna Baxter, Nadine Marshall, Michael Smiley, Jodhi May, Kinga Preis, and Amarah-Jae St. Aubyn.
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.
Like most films, The Silent Twins begins with a set of opening credits. Here, it’s a sequence that immediately sets the playfully inventive tone for director Agnieszka Smoczynska’s cinematic treatment of the titular twin sisters’ lives, with June and Jennifer Gibbons (first seen as children played by Leah Mondesir-Simmonds and Eva-Arianna Baxter) reading the cast names (including their own, exclaiming “us”) as part of their pretend radio show.
It’s a cutesy, escapist creative choice that works under the logic that June and Jennifer were dealt terrible cards in life, having their problems amplified by schoolyard bullying (they are part of the only Black family in the Wales community), generalized ostracization over their condition of only being able to communicate with each other, and less than compassionate psychiatric treatment, hence the need for escapism.
Based on the novel by Sunday Times journalist Marjorie Wallace (who does appear briefly played by Jodhi May) and written by Andrea Seigel, The Silent Twins is a bit too committed to the artsy magical realism touches, at times keeping viewers emotionally distant from the lives of June and Jennifer (who go on to be played by Letitia Wright and Tamara Lawrance as young adults).
Incorporating real stories, poetry, and song from the sisters, Agnieszka Smoczynska dabbles in everything from claymation to fantasy sequences to depict a happier, more aesthetically pleasing, and colorful world for June and Jennifer (with all of the making for an endlessly fascinating sandbox for cinematographer Jakub Kijowski to play in) outside cold and cruel reality. It’s also inherently lovely that the words of two people only capable of communicating with themselves have had their most recognized written works artistically translated to a film.
However, The Silent Twins is so focused on those aspects and functioning as a visual feast for the eyes that it loses sight of the sisters as individual characters. The cryptophasia language on display from Letitia Wright and Tamara Lawrance excels. They impress in these roles, but no amount of artsy segments salvage that it’s all a mask for The Silent Twins plotting still functioning as a straightforward biopic committed to hitting the crucial moments of these lives without trying too deeply into them.
The film also is shockingly disinterested in the reality that this area of Wales is predominantly white and that racism was alive and well during the time. It’s still alive, but for a movie set in the 1980s where some Black mute sisters gradually begin to suffer and end up on trial for arson mentally, it’s awfully generous towards the actions of white characters.
A great deal of pain festers inside the sisters, coupled with an unsettling atmosphere that feels like a horror movie could break out from within at any moment, making for an uneasy watch. The sisters decide they want to be published writers, but they can also be competitive with one another and violently lash out, especially when one of their crushes causes a brief rift.
Some of the fictional stories woven into the narrative are also unexpectedly demented and tough to shake, such as one about a man and woman that repeatedly have children only for them to die of a heart defect, this time with the man, in his determination to keep the baby alive, deciding to perform a heart transplant from the family pet.
With such peculiar upbringings and personalities, it’s no surprise that some of their writings were equally creepy (perfectly captured through the claymation), but there’s still a deflating disappointment that the script can’t quite tap into the specifics of the sisters or find an emotional through line. The Silent Twins is imaginatively crafted but lacking in substance.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Critics Choice Association. He is also the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com