If you grew up in Britain, chances are you have heard of the Kray twins, Ronald and Reginald Kray. The two brothers were notorious in Britain during the 1950s and 1960s; known for their organised crimes, including arson, armed robberies, assaults and even murder. These East London gangsters were not to be messed with and they – along with their gang of cronies – took part in handing out their share of punishment.
It goes without saying that the stories of the twins’ escapades would not go untold; people need to know about the things that happened during their reign of the streets of London. So, of course the story of the Krays was told through books and film; most notably The Krays (1990) starring real life brothers Gary and Martin Kemp as Ronnie and Reggie Kray. The fact-based movie drove deep into us the terror the Krays unleashed upon those unfortunate enough to cross their paths, as well as the relationship between the two. It did relatively well, and was even apparently a hit with the real Reggie Kray who wrote fan letters to his portrayer in the movie, Martin Kemp. However, with that movie reaching its 25th year since being made, it definitely is time for a new one. And who better to take the reins than Tom Hardy, who plays both lead roles. I enjoyed the first movie, now it’s time to see the grit of Legend.
Legend is the story of identical twin brothers Reggie and Ronnie Kray (played by Tom Hardy and Tom Hardy), who proved to be two of the most notorious criminals in British history. Set in the 60s, it follows the two men as they build their empire in the East End, using intimidation and the most violent means necessary. It is told through the narrative of Francis Shea (Emily Browning) and takes the audience on a tour through the lives of the two violent brothers.
As I’ve mentioned previously, the story of the Kray twins have been told before and although the stories do inform us of their violent criminal empire, none have been told quite like Brian Helgeland’s Legend has. Previous depictions of the Krays focus mostly entirely on their crimes, their gangster status or their ‘celebrity’ status, depending on the sources. What Legend has done differently is taken the focus not entirely away from this but instead built a foundation. Legend delves fully into the personalities of each twin separate from their violent behaviours; it shows us how different the two were. Where Ronnie acts spontaneously, making irrational decisions due in big part to his mental health status, Reggie would be the complete opposite of this, acting more business-like with a calm demeanour. Legend unfolds the men and puts focus onto Reggie’s relationship with his wife and the relationship between the two brothers themselves. It is definitely a brutal movie, full of terrible crime and behaviours, but it has a dark humour to it – particularly with Ronnie Kray’s characterisation.
What particularly wowed me about this movie is the pure magnificence of Hardy’s performances. He completely embodied the polar opposite characters of the twins with his beautifully theatrical style of acting. Each had their own personalities, mannerisms, facial expressions and total behaviour. It is easy to believe that each character is played by two different men; Ronnie with his paranoia and hard stare and Reggie with his charming, calm persona. The smooth running of each scene adds to the brilliance of the double performance, you could be easily fooled into falling completely into the disbelief that the same man is playing two roles next to each other. It is incredible. Emily Browning’s portrayal of the young and impressionable beau of Reggie, Francis, was equally as entertaining. She had a fragility that perfectly encapsulated the life of a gangster’s wife. Her narration perfectly carries the story, and added a beautiful bittersweet feeling as you could feel her adoration and hatred for the man who stole her heart, and just how hard it is to love someone so full of a life of crime.
The film shows the gritty truth of a gangster’s life and the lives of those who are close to them. The film really shows how much the Krays have to loose, and how little they really have, whilst also perfectly capturing how their behaviours and life-choices ruins the people they love. It has been argued that the film glamorises the twin’s behaviours, however, although the Krays did have charm and money and were considered celebrities to some, their losses and punishments were much larger than any glamour depicted in the movie. In my opinion the film in an honest telling of the events, the boys did enjoy themselves and had some of the finer things in life, but that came at a very big price that I’m sure most people would rather not pay.
The cinematography and direction of this film beautifully capture the themes and moods of the time, and is shot in a classic stylish way. The script was cleverly balanced between brutality, harsh realities, violence, and dark humour. Giving the slight comedic feel to certain scenes of the film lightens the blow of the whole feel and atmosphere of the movie, without harming the seriousness of the situations. It allows the audience to laugh and feel slightly more comfortable with the film they are ingesting which is done in a very intelligent way. To top it off, the soundtrack worked in perfect complement to the time and themes of the film, rounding off all the criteria for a truly great movie.
While the Krays might be a terrible twosome with some devilish history, Legend is a must-see, showing the harsh truth of the notorious brothers and their reign of London. It is definitely the best depiction of the Kray twins as yet and definitely a film worth seeing.