The film tells the story of the identical twin gangsters Reggie and Ronnie Kray, two of the most notorious criminals in British history, and their organised crime empire in the East End of London during the 1960s.
The Krays have become such a large part of British popular culture for good or bad, with an earlier film about their exploits starring the Kemp brothers (Martin and Steve) raising their profile, so a return to this topic with ‘Legend’ isn’t exactly a surprising development. This biopic comes from ‘L.A. Confidential’ scribe Brian Helgeland, with Tom Hardy portraying both of the twins in an incredible dual performance. Unfortunately, the film doesn’t have the narrative that Hardy’s performance deserves, and a stellar supporting cast are mostly stranded in a gangster story without much happening.
The film is told from the viewpoint of Frances Shea (Emily Browning), Reggie Kray’s girlfriend and for a short time, his wife. This provides something of an outside perspective on the twins activities, and Browning’s performance is good as the only female role of note throughout. For those that don’t know the story of the Krays, they were a couple of gangsters in London’s East End throughout the 1950s and 1960s who reached a level of fame and notoriety through a series of crimes including armed robberies and murders, which helped them to gain ownership of several lucrative night time establishments. Reggie was the savvier of the two, a charming businessman who fraternised with various politicians and famous names in showbusiness, whilst Ronnie was the more dangerous – an openly gay man with psychotic tendencies. ‘Legend’ is the story of their rise and fall, but disappointingly, it’s not all that compelling a story, and it’s a classic crime tale that’s been told many times before, and better.
The ace in the pack for ‘Legend’ is Tom Hardy, who is magnificent as both brothers, imbuing both men with their individual traits and quirks. It’s very clear from the outset which brother is on screen, and that’s purely down to Hardy’s terrific performances. The rest of the cast is pretty great as well, with David Thewlis particularly enjoyable as Leslie Payne, the twin’s weasly business manager. The film is primarily focused on the gangster’s activities, but we do spend some time with the police investigation, led by Christopher Eccleston’s Detective. The minimal time spent with the police makes you question whether it was really necessary, when a shorter, tighter runtime would have made for a stronger film overall. One of the elements where the film does shine is in its score from regular Coen collaborator Carter Burwell, which is typically excellent and encapsulates the time and feel of the era.
There’s been a lot of talk about the film glamorising the Krays, and whilst there’s an argument to be made that any depiction of criminals on screen does this to an extent, I don’t think ‘Legend’ strays overly in that path. Hardy’s performance as Reggie is effortlessly charismatic at times, but we also see him in moments of extreme violence and we see the way he treats Frances once they get married. Overall, ‘Legend’ doesn’t give Tom Hardy’s terrific dual performance the platform it deserves, but this is a reasonably enjoyable gangster biopic with enough to make seeing it worthwhile.
Directed By: Brian Helgeland
Starring: Tom Hardy, Emily Browning, David Thewlis, Christopher Eccleston, Taron Egerton, Sam Spruell, Paul Bettany, Colin Morgan, Aneurin Barnard, Paul Anderson, John Sessions and Chazz Palminteri