Director Agnieszka Smoczynska’s new biographical film “The Silent Twins” may originate from real-world stories, but it mirrors cinematic dreamlands. Pairing childhood memories with sweet pastels, she balances somber narratives with colorful fantasy.
Adapted from Marjorie Wallace’s book of the same name, screenwriter Andrea Seigel brings to life the narrative of real-life twins June (Letitia Wright) and Jennifer Gibbons (Tamara Lawrance). Isolated and ostracized at school because of their race, the twins respond to their trauma with silence. Both sisters resist talking to anyone from the outside world, only communicating with one another in private.
Their idleness leads them to an arid adolescence, filled with solemn nights and fictional stories — an element illuminated with fantastical animation. Contrasting these solemn scenes are rich purples and blues, as well as vivid and panache clothing.
Insolent to the twins’ harassment at school and confused at their coping, doctors decide to separate the twins and send them to different boarding schools. When isolated from one another, June and Jennifer discover their internal bond — an everlasting tie much stronger than blood — and must choose between life or death together.
“The Silent Twins” succeeds in terms of aesthetics. Smoczynska’s editorial choices craft an evocative aura of melancholia to match the solemn narrative of the real-life sisters. But underneath the lucid animation, lulling color palette and commendable acting, there’s little substance. Vast in vision yet void in writing, the narrative descends as the runtime continues, earning boredom rather than sympathy.
Oftentimes, the writing disconnects the audience from the film, removing them from an emotional or heart-wrenching scene. For instance, when an intense conversation occurs between Wright and Lawrance, the scene often switches to animation and disrupts their emotional performances.
Even these minute moments of emotion are rare, as Seigel diminishes the narrative of triumph amidst trauma. Trite and bland, her scene construction resembles the uninspired biopics of 2021. Similar to “The Eyes of Tammy Faye” and “Being the Ricardos,” the writing allows for stellar performances from the leads, but it doesn’t present any originality or bite to their stories. Seigel turns the engrossing stories of June and Jennifer into monotonous drama, feigning the merit of an awards season contender. This element comes across as insincere to the real-life troubles of the twins and removes any connection viewers may have developed with the characters.
However, Smoczynska assists these issues as much as she can. In fact, her focus on underlining the talent in Wright and Lawrance contributes to the majority of the film’s artistic merit. Adding effervescent colors and lush lighting, as well as deliberate costume design, she counteracts the banality and faults of the writing.
With bouncing camera movements and imaginative cinematography, the film visually captures the interest of the audience, and it does so with an interesting statement. These artistic choices communicate what the twins cannot, transcending their writing passion and internalized fears to the screen. Because Smocyznka transmits all of what the twins withhold — their beliefs, attitudes and emotions — viewers can bond with their narrative. This directorial element, not the screenwriting, is what allows “The Silent Twins” to thrive.
Costuming from Katarzyna Lewinska and Cobbie Yates also contributes to this magical yet informative effect. Both collaborators mix soft colors with the troubling, imminent threat running through the lives of June and Jennifer. In the visual and aesthetic sense, this trait in the wardrobe attributes more depth to their character arcs. Due to the mystical directing and costuming, the movie earns more merit in areas Seigel failed to cover.
While Smocyznka’s craftsmanship impresses as stellar and melancholic amidst a trend of monotone biopics, it stands far from critical acclaim. Because of how little nuance it adds to the narratives of June and Jennifer, the screenwriting holds the film back from achieving greatness.
Perhaps with another script, Focus Features’ “The Silent Twins” could have soared as an awards contender. But instead, it presents a hollow skeleton of what the movie could have been.