Written By Sophie McNaughton
The Krays tells the rise and fall chronicle of the notorious Kray twins who dominated London in a reign of violence and intimidation in the 1960s. The 1990 film stars brothers Martin and Gary Kemp. I adore the original film adaptation based on the book ‘The Profession of Violence: The Rise and Fall of the Kray twins’ and was a bit precious about the idea of a re-make. But when I heard Tom Hardy would be starring as both Ronald “Ronnie” and Reginald “Reggie” Kray I was intrigued to see how this re-telling of the story of Britain’s most infamous-gangsters-turned-surprising-national-treasures would pan out.
Legend is a revitalised, re-energised take on the Krays twins’ story with impeccably glitzy costume and set design. The class, suave style and sexiness of the film is instantly apparent as the movie opens with Reggie (the front) and Ronnie (the muscle) smoking cigars in the back of a chauffeur driven car driving through star-studded, swinging ‘60s London with an Cockney voice over from Reggie’s wife, Frances Kray (maiden name: Shea).
While this indulgence in the glamourized East End folklore of the twins may not be an entirely explicit, graphic and wholly honest portrayal of the Krays – figures who have been mythologised and turned into iconic, nostalgic characters of 1960s Britannia – no critic can deny that this film is still a brutal, spunky, unapologetic adaptation which might make audiences laugh at times but which also ponders sobering questions, particularly regarding the mental health issues and wellbeing of Ronnie Kray. Ronnie was eventually certified insane and became a patient of Broadmoor psychiatric hospital (an aspect of his life that the 1990 film does not touch on, and instead portrays Ronnie as merely a lover of violence).
Although the narrator of the film, Frances, died from suicide not long after she and Reggie married (a piece of trivia I already knew from the 1990 film), I thought it was an inspired touch on behalf of the director to have the film concentrate on the story from her perspective.
There are subtle characterisations and mannerisms of the two brothers – Ronnie’s deeper voice; how he breathes heavily and shows his bottom row of teeth more than the top; how he wobbles and swaggers with a fat cigar in his hand and Reggie’s way of slicking back his hair; placing a protective hand on the small of Frances’ back wherever they go and his sweet, innocent, butter-wouldn’t-melt in his mouth voice. Hardy hones the characteristics of these two very similar but paradoxically very different brothers to create two lively and vivid performances.
Legend follows the twins rise as they buy and run clubs in London (gained largely through intimidation), make contacts with the big boys of Las Vegas and become socialites and even celebrities of 1960s pop culture. We then see their empire begin to crumble around them as Ronnie’s side-splitting one liners (“I prefer boys. Mostly Italian but I’m not prejudiced. And I’m the giver, not the receiver. There’s a difference, you know – I ain’t a faggot.”) fade and he becomes increasingly violent, paranoid and unable to be controlled by anyone other than his brother and with rival gangsters baying for Kray blood. Reggie, too, begins to crack under the pressure and violently lashes out on poor Frances with the audience watching on in horror as he comes more and more like his psychopathic brother.
Critics have been slating Legend because of its slightly cartoonish, embellished and perhaps a little generalised portrayal of the Krays.I, like many others, thoroughly enjoyed this sophisticated, violent, sexy, art-house-with-a-big-budget depiction of London’s most infamous criminals and it is definitely a film I would recommend to gangster-film-virgins.