Director: Brian Helgeland
Screenwriter: Brian Helgeland based on the book by John Pearson
Runtime: 131 mins.
Australian release date: 15 October 2015
Set in the 1960s, in the East End of London, Brian Helgeland’s, Legend, portrays the lives of twin brothers Reggie and Ronnie Kray, notorious, violent gangsters who masqueraded as nightclub owners. The film however, concentrates on Reggie’s attempts to control his older twin brother’s psychopathic behaviour, which often went way beyond the boundaries of even other gangsters. There was, apparently, a code of behaviour in this criminal milieu but it was a code that Ronnie didn’t ‘get’. He had, for example, no qualms about acknowledging his homosexuality at a time where such an admission was considered highly controversial.
The twins are played by Tom Hardy in roles that may well earn him an Oscar nod. He successfully portrays the brothers’ independent characters, one being a man smitten by the ‘love of his life’ Frances Shea (Aussie actress Emily Browning) and the other a psychopath who had a tendency to erupt and become quite disinhibited, causing havoc in their ever-expanding criminal empire. Ronnie also had a rather strange relationship with an equally psychotic gay man Edward ‘Mad Teddy’ Smith (Taron Egerton).
Reggie and Ronnie were unrelenting in their rise to the top of the gangland heap, creating ‘the Firm’ that, in ‘the swinging ‘60s,’ was Britain’s answer to the Mafia, the only difference being that they were well known to the police. They were relentlessly pursued by a detective-sergeant known as ‘Nipper’ Read (Christopher Eccleston), who eventually managed to bring them to justice when they were charged with two murders. Initially though, as a cover for their illegal deeds, the Krays purchased a billiard hall, then moved on to a London nightclub - Esmeralda’s Barn in Knightsbridge - that was a far cry from their old ‘stomping ground’ in the East End.
Ever expanding, if they wanted your nightclub or casino, they made you “an offer you couldn’t refuse.” They revelled in their wrong-doings yet sought the recognition of the entertainment and political worlds, hosting guests such as Diana Dors, Judy Garland and Frank Sinatra, and a host of politicians. They were even photographed by the celebrity photographer, David Bailey, which gave them a kind of loose ‘rock star’ status. Their notoriety gave them the strength and influence to run their businesses, which were soon being assisted up by the Las Vegas mafia, who laundered dodgy bonds through the brothers, bringing in a steady supply of US dollars.
For all this true-life drama, Legend is a film which quite frankly leaves you a bit cold at the end. Somehow it feels flat, which is surprising given Helgeland’s previous writing credits on films such as The Taking of Pelham 123, L.A. Confidential and Mystic River. Apart from Hardy’s performance, there’s not much going for this. At the end of the day, guvnor, the Krays were little more than a couple of ‘lowies’ with a penchant for ultra-violence and not a lot going on upstairs. See it for Tom Hardy’s extraordinary performance but, that aside, Legend is pretty average movie-going.