Review: The deafening silence of ‘The Silent Twins’

Agnieszka Smoczynska’s third feature film uniquely tells a new story of famous twins Jennifer and June Gibbons. “The Silent Twins” is currently playing in many theaters across New York City.


Aaliya Luthra

“The Silent Twins” tells the story of Jennifer and June Gibbons using compelling visuals, but fails to fully develop the intricacies of sisters’ relationship. (Illustration by Aaliya Luthra)

Saige Gipson, Staff Writer

Making her debut in English language film, Polish director Agnieszka Smoczynska presents viewers with the visually mesmerizing and transportive “The Silent Twins.” While Smoczynska achieves a compelling visual richness, she fails to say anything meaningful. 

“The Silent Twins,” based on Marjorie Wallace’s book of the same name, premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in May. The film is a complex retelling of the real lives of Jennifer and June Gibbons. Jennifer (Tamara Lawrance) and June (Letitia Wright) are twins living in a small town in Wales. They only communicate with each other and act as one person, often mirroring the motions of the other. After many years of silence, they begin committing crimes, and are  eventually sentenced to the infamous Broadmoor Hospital.

The 20-year story reveals a different side of the twins that is not often shown in pop culture. Many of the scenes take place behind the closed door of their bedroom, where they feel safe to be themselves. There, the twins reveal their true selves, making audiences understand them rather than alienate them.

In the film, Smoczynska touches on many topics, including race, bullying, sibling dynamics and mental health. Unfortunately, it spreads itself too thin, and some of the topics are left half-baked. 

The inner minds of the twins are most often shown by stop motion vignettes, in which eerie handmade dolls are the subjects of their stories. One animated scene depicts a husband and wife who have just had a baby, who was given two weeks to live due to a heart condition. The parents take matters into their own hands and perform a transplant on the baby using the heart of their dog. The twins narrate the story indifferently, as it offers the audience a peek into their psyche and reveals that their minds are busy, despite their mouths being idle. Though their stories begin as ideas, they start to mirror real life until the line is blurred between reality and the imaginary world June and Jennifer have created.

Smoczynska’s repeated mixing of mediums and styles is what makes her storytelling unique, but sometimes it does not achieve the effect as hoped for. Many of the original songs in the movie are written using lines from the twins’ diaries. This is effective when used the first time, but loses its impact as the film goes on and the songs continue spelling out the exact situations June and Jennifer experience. The songs are explicitly telling the audience what to feel and how the sisters feel, rather than showing through acting and technical aspects. 

Despite the dark subject matter, the film has many funny moments. The humor comes from the contrast of the twins’ richly romantic world and the real-life banal surroundings of Wales. There are often quick transitions between what the twins see paired with a reverse shot of what is truly happening. The humor is written so that the film never makes fun of the twin’s peculiarities, but instead reveals a world we all wish we were in. 

The screenplay, written by Andrea Seige, leaves much to be desired as the film never explores why the twins act the way they do. The lavish style of the film is the real appeal, and the relentlessly bold aesthetic made use of vibrant colors and upside-down shots. The twins’ entrance into Broadmoor, a hospital infamous for its abuse and scandals, is not framed as scary, but rather as inviting. Smoczynska also delves into the romanticized world of the twins welcoming them in with synchronized swimmers, dance sequences, book signings, and Princess Diana.

Despite the vivid style of the “The Silent Twins” and Smoczynska’s directorial prowess, the film lacks weight and meaning, attempting to handle too many topics to truly reveal the lives of June and Jennifer.

Contact Saige Gipson at [email protected].