If you were exposed to BBC documentaries in the 1990s, you might be familiar with the much-covered story of June and Jennifer Gibbons. From a young age, the identical twins refused to communicate with anyone except each other in their small town of Haverfordwest, Wales. Their rejection of society, and a streak of vandalism, led both women to be sentenced in 1981 to an indefinite detention in Broadmoor Hospital, a famous psychiatric facility where they remained for 11 years.
The injustice of their lives is just one angle of 2022’s The Silent Twins. Directed by Agnieszka Smoczyńska, the film celebrates the twins’ work as writers and explores the tension that existed between them. Using journalist Marjorie Wallace’s 1986 book of the same name as source material, this version serves as a modern route into June and Jennifer’s lives.
Taking on the twin roles are Tamara Lawrance and Black Panther’s Letitia Wright, who is also an executive producer on the project. We sat down with them to try and look beyond the headlines…
Hey Letitia and Tamara, when did you first hear about this story?
Letitia Wright: “It was several years ago. For me it was like: ‘Man this needs to reach the masses’. People need to understand the ways in which this was clearly an unjust situation. It stayed in my heart for a long time.”
Tamara Lawrance: “I heard about it sort of through myth and legend – seeing their mugshots and assuming the worst. So I only understood how actually misinformed I was when the audition came along and I started to research the project.”
Did the twin sister dynamic come naturally to both of you?
LW: Oh no definitely not, because I’m not a twin unfortunately. But when you’re doing a film you’re really in your head and you just want to focus on the ways in which you can bring that character to life. Usually you’re doing that work by yourself but this has been a really dope, amazing process to collaborate with someone who has a different style of working and trying to synchronise [with] that, just like the twins did. How can their personalities come together to achieve what they want? That’s been really cool to explore.”
Is it true that Letitia was supposed to play both roles using CGI?
LW: Yeah, that’s kind of true. We just didn’t have that Will Smith Gemini Man money! Independent filmmaking is quite a beautiful journey but sometimes you don’t have all the tools you need. We quickly realised that we needed someone who could champion Jennifer in a beautiful way. When we did chemistry reads, Tamara knocked it out of the park and it was like, ‘Let’s stop auditioning people please, she’s amazing.’”
Jennifer died in 1993, but were you able to speak to June at all?
LW: June respectfully lives a private life. We connected with Marjorie [Wallace] who is still in contact with June, so anything we needed to communicate, Marjorie was a beautiful person that would be in the middle to do that for us. Thankfully, the reports and the feedback have been positive and we’re really happy that we got the opportunity to represent her and her sister. I would say that we’ve got a beautiful thumbs up, that’s all I can say.”
There’s a clear focus on highlighting their creativity as writers…
LW: “Yeah, we definitely wanted that. In order to be on board, I needed to trust that they were gonna tell the truth of what happened to these two young women. Our director really understood the need to bring the ways in which they were writing and creating to life. [It’s] not just the narrative that they were strange, or something was wrong with them and we couldn’t understand them. We wrapped them up and sent them away. Unfortunately that was what happened, but this version of their story explores the multi-layers of their characters and it was really dope to put that across.”
What was it like shooting the intense fight scenes?
TL: “It was cold, especially the fight scene on the road. It was obviously physically taxing because you do a lot of takes and the body goes into shock after a certain time. There was a lot of adrenaline running through our body, a lot of trembling after some takes, but we had a great stunt team who worked really hard at getting that choreography down for us.”
What do you want people to take away from this film?
TL: I would love people to have their eyes opened to the truth of the injustice [suffered by June and Jennifer] – and to empathise with them. If you just read the media coverage, it’s easy to think that everything that happened to them was their fault and they deserved it – that the pinch matched the ouch in terms of the sentence they were given. I highly recommend the book and getting even deeper… I think people might find more in common with them than they realise.”
‘The Silent Twins’ is in cinemas now