Bound by Flesh

Synopsis: This remarkable documentary tells the amazing story of Daisy and Violet Hilton, conjoined twins who rose to superstardom at the beginning of the 20th century as sideshow attractions, performing alongside the likes of Bob Hope and Charlie Chaplin. Ruthlessly exploited by their managers, the sisters ultimately sued for their freedom-which they won at a terrible cost. Bound By Flesh puts a touchingly human face on two outsiders who went from the lowest rungs of society to the big time and back again.
Genre: Documentary
Director(s): Leslie Zemeckis
Production: Sundance Selects
  1 win & 1 nomination.
Rotten Tomatoes:
95 min

[projector whirring]

[film reel clicking]

- I am Violet Hilton.

This is my prospective

bridegroom, Maurice Lambert.

We tried very hard to procure

a marriage license,

both in the states of New York

and New Jersey,

but were refused

in both places.

I feel very, very unhappy

about it

because I love Maurice

very, very dearly,

and he loves me.

And I don't see any reason

in the world

why we should be denied

the pleasure of being happy.

[rock music]

- The eyes of the curious world

have been focused on us

almost from the moment

of our birth.

- They were born on

a February night in 1 908...

- In Brighton, England.

Their mother was unwed.

- Kate Skinner, a grocery clerk

and also a barmaid.

Kate worked for Mary Hilton,

who operated a pub

and also worked

as a midwife,

along with her husband,


Usually got the service

of their barmaids free

because they promised

the young women

that she would be there

to attend to the births.

She had a very difficult labor,

started early in the morning.

They lived in row houses,

and because she was tormented,

people were pounding on

the walls on either side of her,

telling her to shut up.

Twins actually

ran in Kate's family,

so it wasn't a great surprise

when the delivery took place

that twins were born.

Mary Hilton, of course,

detected immediately

that something

was peculiar here.

They were joined back-to-back.

And then when Kate

discovered it moments later,

she was absolutely horrified,

you know, that she had brought

into the world "freaks."

She would not even hold

the children,

much less suckle the children.

She thought that this was

a punishment from God.

She had these children

out of wedlock.

Dr. Rooth came,

and while the babies appeared

vigorous and healthy,

he said the twins would die

in a very short period.

At that point in history,

the mortality rate

for conjoined twins

was probably something like

1,000 deaths

per 1 survival.

There had never been

any successful separations.

Kate was probably

somewhat cheered,

knowing that her babies

were going to die

and prayed that

they would pass overnight.

But in the morning,

they were always there,

always squirming.

Mary Hilton visited Kate

every day

to bathe the babies

and feed the babies,

and the twins seemed to be

getting ever stronger.

- She sold the girls

to Mary Hilton.

- Initially, she just kind of

took possession of them.


they were legally adopted, yes.

- Did she have genuine affection

for these little girls,

or, you know,

was she always thinking

that perhaps there was

the opportunity

to display them,

to promote them?

- She was

a poorly educated woman

but a savvy woman

at the same time.

She saw from the beginning

that these two little things

were cash cows.

Kate did ultimately name them

Daisy and Violet.

They both had

entirely separate organs

with this kind of

little ribbon of flesh

through which

the bloods and fluids

would circulate

from one to another.


they were rather tightly

fastened to one another,

but as they grew older,

that ribbon of flesh became

more and more elasticized,

just from their movements.

- We seem to move

without much effort

because we've propelled

each other.

- Mary was a real promoter.

She had a real knack for

how to sort of sell the story,

and she would have

these little photo postcards... -

and you could buy

one of these little postcards

as a souvenir... -

and would set them up

in one of the family rooms

of the home,

and you could go off,

and, you know,

for a small fee,

you could go into the home,

see the little girls,

and if you wanted a souvenir,

you would buy

one of these little postcards

and see

The Brighton United Twins.

- Her pub was called

the Queen's Arms.

She displayed the children,

now a month old or so,

in a back room of the pub,

and people could come in

and, for a couple of pence,

have the opportunity

to view the children.

So there was

this constant stream of people

now coming to the bar.

- One of their first memories

is being little girls

in the tavern

and having people

lift up their dresses

and testing

the connection between them

to prove that

they were really conjoined.

- The little ribbon of flesh

was sensitive to touch,

so if somebody touched it,

you know,

it might bring about

a movement.

Brighton, England,

at this time,

was a popular seaside resort.

There were wax museums,


a great variety

of entertainment.

It was a very glitzy place

on the sea.

- One of the things that

they did very, very early

when they were quite small

was appear in pit shows,

which were popular

among lower-class communities.

- When you would come in,

the performers would be on

little stages

that were only 6 inches

above the ground.

And there would be a railing

almost the length of the tent

and the width of the tent

that enclosed these stages.

And the people then would

come in and lean on the railing.

- As babies,

they weren't doing much

other than being

in this space

with people

looking down on them.

It must not have been

a very enjoyable experience.

- Our earliest memories

center about

a doctor pleading with Auntie

to permit him to cut us apart.

- Doctors always wanted

to poke and prod

and talk openly in front of them

about separating them.

- Maybe it was

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Leslie Zemeckis

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Submitted on August 05, 2018

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