The Kray twins are two of Britain’s most notorious criminals, who made their name through the organised crime empire that they ran from the East End of London in the 1960s. Depending on who you talk to or what you read, the Kray twins were either seen as thuggish gangsters or celebrities of the East End.
Their violent tendencies aside, the two brothers were polar opposites. Reggie was the calmer one who had an idea of how the world of business worked whereas Ronnie was brash with his decisions, more often than not choosing to shoot first and ask questions later.
The pair have been depicted in film and television before but none have been quite like the film Legend, which sees Tom Hardy play both Ronnie and Reggie Kray. While the film does tell the story of both men and their criminal empire, more focus is given to the life of Reggie and in particular, the relationship he had with his wife, Frances (Emily Browning).
Written and directed by Brian Helgeland, the Academy Award winning screenwriter of L.A. Confidential, Legend is a violent and darkly funny insight into the criminal underworld of London’s East End in the 1960s, ruled by the Kray twins.
My biggest concern going into Legend was that Tom Hardy playing the role of both brothers would become a gimmick and slight distraction from the story the film is trying to tell. It took me a few scenes to get over it but after that, in a weird way, it’s easy to forget you are watching one man play two characters on screen at the same time. This is all down to Hardy’s brilliant double performance.
He captures the essence of each character so well; the suaveness of Reggie and the aggressive side of Ronnie, once again showing how different they could be as well as how similar they also were at times. In an ideal world, it would be great to see Hardy pick up both a nomination for Best Actor (Reggie) and Best Supporting Actor (Ronnie). It would be very unlikely but very deserved.
Emily Browning, starring and narrating as Frances, also gives a memorable performance, showing how vulnerable even those loved by the Krays could end up being. As much as she loved Reggie, she spent a lot of time putting on a brave face and the lifestyle he chose to live ended up eating away at her mind.
Brian Helgeland’s film has been accused of glamourising the Kray twins and their crimes however, in a Q&A after the film, Helgeland refused to agree that his film did this. He argued that the characters were already considered glamorous, due to the lifestyle they led, but in no way was he championing what they did.
Helgeland directs in the stylish way that you would associate with many gangster films and his screenplay is both brutal and, in places, devilishly funny. His film is brought to life with the help of some wonderful production design by Tom Conroy and slick cinematography from Dick Pope.
There are some great choices in music included on the film’s soundtrack too, Booker T’s Green Onions and I’m Into Something Good by Herman’s Hermits perfectly accompanying the stylish visuals of the film.
Whether or not the Krays were stylish is a matter of opinion but there is no denying that Brian Helgeland’s Legend is a very well made gangster film that certainly aims high yet fails to reach the heights of Goodfellas or The Godfather films.