Legend – Film Review by Frances Winston
Directed by: Brian Helgeland
Starring: Tom Hardy, Emily Browning, David Thewlis, Christopher Eccleston, Chazz
In cinemas September 9th
Based on the book The Profession of Violence: The Rise and Fall of the Kray Twins by John Pearson this sees Tom Hardy take on the dual roles of the notorious gangster twins Ron and Reg Kray. This is no mean feat for an actor. As some of my previous reviews testify certain actors struggle to create even one character playing mainly themselves in every project they undertake. However, Hardy has more than proven his mettle as a character actor and here he manages to pull off the dual roles with aplomb creating two very distinct – albeit it almost lookalike – personalities.
Set in London in the swinging sixties it charts the rise and fall of the brothers who ruled the East End back in the day. Unlike the nineties film The Krays which focused very much on their relationship with their mother this uses Reggie’s relationship with Frances Shea (Browning) as a catalyst for the story which picks up in the early sixties and follows through until they are finally imprisoned in 1969. Along the way he marries Frances, promises to go straight, mixes with the mafia and hob nobs with celebrities thanks to one of his legitimate businesses running a West End nightclub. The good times come to an end when his relationship with Frances breaks down and she commits suicide and then he and his brother are both finally convicted of separate murders after a long campaign by Scotland Yard detective Nipper Reed (Ecclestone)
While the Krays’ antics are well documented we don’t get to see much of the dark side here. There is a lot of talk about it and one or two intense fight scenes but on the whole this is Reggie and Frances’ story with his attempts to suppress his brother’s psychotic tendencies a footnote in their relationship. While this makes for an engaging, often extremely witty and sometimes sweet film it doesn’t ever convey the true murkiness of the world the twins inhabited. Reggie is very much portrayed as a cheeky chappie while Ronnie is almost pantomime in his madness by contrast. Frances is more ingénue than gangster’s moll and the only somewhat realistic character is her mother who is vehemently opposed to her daughter’s relationship with the criminal. Obviously writer/director Helgeland wants you to root for his hero (Reggie) but you get the feeling that in the process he has seriously tweaked the facts and rewritten the personalities.
If you know nothing whatsoever about the source material this is a really entertaining film. It is not too heavy on the violence, humorous in many places and has some solid performances. However, if you have even an inkling of the Krays’ story this will leave you feeling a bit short changed. My advice would be to forget everything you know and enjoy this as a standalone piece based on the facts rather than slavishly sticking to them, and leave it to the academics to argue about what they got wrong. This is a great movie if you don’t take the facts as gospel.