Out of the big dramas coming out in the later half of this year, Legend is one of the ones I’ve been looking forward to. The Kray twins are two of the most important figures in British criminal history due to the way they controlled the criminal elements of London in the 1960s and they have been figures in British popular culture since then. Monty Python did a parody of them with the Piranha Brothers, shows like Whitechapel have made use of the stories of the Krays in episodes and there have been biopics about them, the most prominent one previously being the 1990 film with Gary and Martin Kemp of Spandau Ballet playing the Krays. This one though has peaked a lot of interest due to the decision to have Tom Hardy play both of the Krays using twinning effects like those in The Social Network and The Double and this was the best decision made for this film. However, the rest of the film doesn’t full match up to Hardy’s excellent performance.
The plot of the film takes a look at the career of the Kray twins from their roots in the East End gangs to their time ruling the London nightlife as casino and club owners, buoyed by their connections to the American mafia, to the events leading up to the eventual arrest of the twins. Like the previous film about the Krays with the Kemp brothers, this film mainly focuses on the perspective of one of the women in the lives of the Krays, in the previous film it was their mum Violet whereas in this case it’s Reggie Krays’ wife Frances. This does have an interesting idea behind it, mainly looking at the actions of the Krays using the perspective of someone in the know but not directly involved and, for the most part, this works to the advantage of the film. The way the film presents most of the relationship between Reggie and Frances comes across well and shows the damage that can be done by this lifestyle, along with showing the harm that is being done by the instability of Ronnie Kray, not just in the Krays’ gang but also in the personal life of Reggie. The individual moments in the film work really well but as a whole, it doesn’t quite mesh together. For starters, the way the film tells the story of the Kray twins means that the tone of the film is all over the place, going from incredible violent scenes to more tender scenes so quickly it creates a bit of tonal whiplash. This is especially true in regards to Frances and the way her relationship with Reggie deteriorates coming across as a bit rushed, it should have taken more time to present the deterioration, along with it ending in a pretty gratuitous scene of sexual assault which, by all accounts, didn’t happen in real life. The feeling that the film is a bit rushed also comes across in some of the key events in the criminal actions of the twins. Major elements in the rise of the Krays’, such as the gang wars at the start of their criminal careers, the role of the political establishment in keeping the actions of the twins under wraps and the investigation of the Krays’ by ‘Nipper’ Read, elements that could have made interesting movies in their own right, get pretty much glossed over (for example, the film spends time on Reed trying to get the Kray’s but, aside from at the end, doesn’t really play much of a role and key elements, such as the team at Tintagel House don’t get mentioned) and as such the film feels really rushed. There’s also the unavoidable element of glamorising the violent actions of the Krays’, at least in the early stages of the film. This is mainly due to the role the Krays had in the London nightlife, with people like Joan Collins, Barbara Windsor and even Frank Sinatra going to clubs owned by Reggie Kray and the film does portray this side of the Kray story pretty accurately, which is where the glamorisation comes in, you can’t properly tell the story of the Kray’s without that element but the glamorisation of the crimes is always present.
The acting though keeps the film from falling apart, for the most part, with the obvious standout being Tom Hardy. As Reggie, Hardy does a great job showing the conflict he has over needing to keep Ronnie’s violent tendencies under control along with the love he has for Ronnie, along with showing his desire to have some elements of the firm kept straight in order to keep Frances on side. As the film goes on, we see how Reggie gets more violent and some of his urges are getting harder to control, mainly in relation to Ronnie and Frances and how the violence of Reggie and Ronnie led to the arrest of the twins. As Ronnie meanwhile, Hardy shows the violent and unpredictable nature of the character really well. There’s always the underlying threat that Ronnie will do anything and kill anyone if he’s in the mood, which feels quite similar to Joe Pesci’s performance in Goodfellas and works in pretty much the same way. Hardy also does a good job showing the homosexual tendencies of Ronnie and how open he is about them, which was dangerous in the 60s as it was only decriminalised in 1967 and, whilst the film doesn’t fully explore his tendencies (mainly by presenting Ronnie as gay when, by most accounts, he was bisexual) it really works for the film, especially in regards to the establishment covering up the crimes the Krays’ committed. Alongside Hardy, David Thewlis is as great as he always is as Leslie Payne, the business manager for the Krays’, showing his disgust at Ronnie’s violent tendencies mixed with the greedy desires of the character really effectively, Taron Egerton does good work as Edward Smith, one of the people who had a relationship with Ronnie Kray, presenting the affection he has for Kray really effectively, Paul Anderson as Reggie’s enforcer Albert Donoghue, who has a great, intimidating presence and, in his brief appearance, Christopher Eccleston is a perfect choice for Nipper Read, showing his obsession with capturing the Krays’ really well, along with the commitment he has to the law and how he feels the Krays’ have cause irreparable damage to the East End, with Reggie thinking the same thing.
Not all the performances match these though. For some it’s due to lack of screen time, with Paul Bettany being the worst sufferer. His scenes have great black comedy and are some of the best scenes in the film, but he leaves 10 minutes into the film and the film does lose something due to his absence, the same also being true of Violet Kray, the mum of Reggie and Ronnie who was a major figure in the lives of the twins but is pretty much glossed over. The big problem though comes with Emily Browning as Frances and, to put it bluntly, she’s terrible in the role. She comes across as really wooden, there isn’t any real chemistry between her and Tom Hardy and, in the worst decision of the film, she gets given the role of narrator and there is no emotion behind anything she says, not helped by the pretty terrible writing of the narration which has moments that would have been unique, had American Beauty and Kick-Ass not done something similar. The film also messes up some of the timeline regarding Frances, mainly making it look like some major elements of her character (which I won’t spoil) happen at the same time as the start of the downfall of the Kray’s when it actually happened four months earlier, which messes up some of Reggie’s motivations from real life. Along with this, it doesn’t go into what could have been a really interesting part of the character in relation to Ronnie Kray near the end, which I won’t talk about for fear of spoiling but, especially when looking at allegations made in the past few years, could have been a really interesting spin on the relationship between the Kray’s but is not even brought up.
The technical aspect of the film though is spot on. The period details are handled brilliantly, mainly the production design for London in the 60’s from the East End streets which still have some remnants of the damage done by the Blitz to the glamourous nightclubs the Krays’ own, along with the brilliant costume design. The main selling point for the technicals comes with the twinning effects used on Tom Hardy, which once again show how good twinning effects are due to the aid of CGI. There are no points where you notice any errors in the effects and the film does a great job having these match some of the more action focused elements of the film, mainly the fight scenes where both characters are in frame where it would be easy to lose track of the faces, which isn’t done here. The standout for this is a fight scene where Reggie and Ronnie fight and the effects used to make it look like Tom Hardy is fighting himself are flawless. The fight scenes are directed and choreographed really well in and of themselves and the film doesn’t shy away from how brutal the violence let out by the Krays’ was, the film fully earning its 18 rating.
Overall, Legend is a film where the whole is weaker than the sum of its parts. Elements like the direction, the production design, a lot of individual moments in the plot and especially the characters, mainly due to an incredible dual performance by Tom Hardy, work wonders, but the overall plot feels a bit too rushed, spending more time on Reggie’s relationship with Frances to the detriment of the more interesting aspects of the criminal careers of the twins, not helped by a terrible performance by Emily Browning. The individual moments that work end up working so well that I would recommend seeing this film but it still feels like the definitive film about the Kray twins has yet to be made.
My Rating: 3/5