Published by Student Rag.
People are often surprised to hear that I’m a huge fan of gangster films. I love them so much that I even have a huge make-shift canvas up on my wall featuring characters from Scarface, Goodfellas, The Godfather and many more all gathered round a poker table. But one of my all-time favourite gangster movies is The Krays; the chilling and eerie but stunning 1990 film starring brothers Martin and Gary Kemp which tells the rise and fall chronicle of the notorious Kray twins who dominated London in a reign of violence and intimidation in the 1960s.
Considering how much I adore the original film adaptation based on the book ‘The Profession of Violence: The Rise and Fall of the Kray twins’, I was a bit precious about the idea of a re-make, but when I heard Tom Hardy would be starring as both Ronald “Ronnie” (“the one man mob”) and Reginald “Reggie” Kray (“the gangster prince of the East End”) – an impressive feat in itself, if achieved – 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 that could easily rival the nostalgic, stunning look of The Great Gatsby (2013). 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 a 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 mythologized 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, who was eventually certified insane and became a patient of Broadmoor psychiatric hospital (an aspect of his life that the 1990 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; the movie is very much focalised on the beloved Reggie Kray through the eyes of Frances, and, essentially, from beyond the grave.
Shown, to a certain degree, as caricature portrayals of each twin, Tom Hardy delivers two engrossing and compelling performances as – similar to the tale of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde – Hardy is able to switch personality from the softly-spoken, handsome, gentlemanly and intelligent yet still violent and not-to-be-messed-with Reggie Kray, into his vicious counterpart: the paranoid-schizophrenic, blood-thirsty, unpredictable and terrifyingly violent yet hilarious, Ronnie Kray.
With subtle characterisations and mannerisms including: 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 voice, Hardy hones the characteristics of these two very similar but paradoxically very different brothers to create two vivid, rich, multidimensional performances.
Following 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 different, 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 and the police 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.
With an explosive, ferocious and climactic scene towards the end of the film as Reggie snaps and repeatedly stabs fellow notorious gangland figure Jack “the Hat” McVitie to death in a crowded room at an East End party, we see Frances’ beloved Reggie turn into a monster while his ‘evil twin’ brother remains calm and asks him “what’d you do that for?” – a surreal, role-reversal exchange spookily similar to an earlier one in the film between the brothers, but this time Ronnie is the sensible voice of reason and Reggie is the wild animal covered in another man’s blood.
For the critics who sneer and have been slating Legend because of its slightly cartoonish, embellished and perhaps a little generalised portrayal of the Krays, I can partly understand their aversion. But I, like many others, thoroughly enjoyed this sophisticated, violent, 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 and dire-hard-fans alike.
Legend is out in cinemas now.
Have you seen the film? Let us know what you thought of it in the comments section below.