The story of Reggie and Ronnie Kray is the UK’s equivalent to the Capone/Mafia tale; a piece of folklore passed to each generation, with the nasty reality made more palatable with each re-telling. And it certainly is the case with this latest version of the boys’ lives. Narrated by Reggie’s wife, Frances (Browning), this is less a gritty underworld story and more a series of not-quite-as-brutal-as-they-should-be events. Her besotted character is meant to be the audiences’ ‘in’ to the world of the country’s most notorious gangsters, but we can’t help but feel she’s on the road to ruin from the start. Particularly as she attempts to steer Reggie – portrayed as more business-minded and focused than his psychotic brother – on the straight and narrow, an act that seems as futile and ill-advised as stealing from them. Not to mention the anomaly of her accounts of events she would have obviously had no way of being privy to.
Where the film does shine is the loose cannon sibling – Ronnie. Here, Hardy really acts. He embodies all the mannerisms and traits we would expect from seeing photos and footage of the real-life twins. A character whose personality could turn on a hairpin – and does. It’s a shame, then, that writer/director Helgeland doesn’t go all out with the violence to show us how absolutely reprehensible these people were. At least it doesn’t overplay the ‘well they loved their mother’ angle like the earlier Kemp Brother’s version. Indeed, mother here (played by Jane Wood) is a much more blinkered matriarch, turning a blind eye rather than encouraging the strength of the family.
Poor Christopher Eccleston doesn’t fair well, either. His character, Detective ‘Nipper’ Read, a man who was driven to bring the twins to justice is relegated to an ‘also ran’ role. His importance in their story should not be underestimated, as hinted at in the opening scenes in which the cocky Reggie chats to the frustrated copper on surveillance outside his home.
It’s not all lost, though. Legend is visually stunning and possesses a feel for the period that instantly draws you in. It’s not too flashy, but has enough flair to appeal to those brought up on Lock Stock rather than the crime dramas of the ‘60s and ‘70s. The narration actually gives it an almost noir-esque feel, which would have worked wonders had it been shot in black and white.
All in all, it’s not quite a misfire, but could have been so much more. Hardy, however, will come out of it higher than ever as he cements himself as a true acting powerhouse.
LEGEND / CERT: 18 / DIRECTOR & SCREENPLAY: BRIAN HELGELAND / STARRING: TOM HARDY, CHRISTOPHER ECCLESTON, EMILY BROWNING, COLIN MORGAN, TARA FITZGERALD / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW
Expected Rating: 8 out of 10