When a film buff of my generation thinks of one actor playing twins on screen, we immediately think The Parent Trap, but don’t get too comfortable – Tom Hardy is no Lindsay Lohan!
Not since Spandau Ballet brothers Gary and Martin Kemp had a go back in 1990, has the twisted gangster lives of the infamous Kray twins been brought to life in such a dynamic way. Based on the book The Profession of Violence: The Rise and Fall of the Kray Twins by John Pearson, the film documents the rise and fall of the barbaric brothers, their relationship with each other and others, and their gruesome yet gruelling career.
Director Brian Helgeland (A Knight’s Tale, L.A Confidential), despite being American, has created a quintessentially British drama with Legend. Set in the boozy front bars and dirty back streets of London’s East End district circa 1960s, we first meet Reggie and Ronnie Kray as successful criminals and nightclub owners.
As both brothers, Hardy is a stunning revelation. Though he never left the car in Locke, and grumbled his way through Mad Max: Fury Road, (both good films, I must add) Hardy’s career defining moment was yet to come, and in my opinion, this is it.
As Reggie, he is intelligent, charismatic, smooth and relatively discreet. As Ronnie, he is moody, unstable, psychopathic and openly gay in an era that forbid it. From the moment the twins appear on screen, Hardy is instantly camouflaged by his own impeccable performance(s). It’s a dazzling double act, requiring two completely different personalities and sets of body language.
The more handsome Reggie walks confidently and calmly in his surroundings, even stopping to tease the police parked out the front of his flat on surveillance. Ronnie, however, is a completely different story. Discharged by bribes from a psychiatric hospital in the film’s beginning, he is thickset and distant, staring coldly and unpredictably through his glasses.
Our narrator is pretty wallflower, Frances (Australian actress Emily Browning), the fragile sister of Reggie’s nervy driver Frankie (Merlin’s Colin Morgan). A mutual love of lemon sherbets surprisingly brings Frances and Reggie together, and before long – and much to the justified dismay of her mother, played stoically albeit briefly by Tara Fitzgerald – the two are stepping out.
The role of a narrator can be hit-and-miss in films, and in this instance, it’s purely a matter of personal choice. Browning’s soft cockney accent is flowery, fluid and never interruptive, and in the heat of the violence, vitriol and vengeance, it gives an interesting fictional insight into the inner circle. Many critics have also made a point of the fact that the film glamourises violence, and essentially, it does. However, let’s be perfectly honest, what action-drama doesn’t? Jack The Ripper, Charles Manson and Bonnie and Clyde – they’ve all been given a high-octane silver screen outings over the years!
What Legend does differently – and quite intelligently – is the humour. In theory, a movie about London’s most notorious criminals and killers doesn’t sound very funny, but the dialogue is side-splitting at almost every moment. “What is that?” Ronnie yells in a confrontation with a rival gang. “I come here for a PROPER shootout! What you gonna do with that rollin pin? You gonna bake me a cake?”
Supporting cast wise, it’s a good set of familiar faces. Ex-Doctor Who’s Christopher Eccleston as Nipper Read; the cop keen to bring the twins down, Taron Egerton as Ronnie’s loyal and bimbo boyfriend Teddy, Harry Potter’s David Thewlis as the Kray’s crooked financial advisor Leslie Payne, Chazz Palminteri as an American-Italian mafia boss, a brutal cameo from Paul Bettany, and Welsh comeback crooner Duffy as singer Timi Yuro.
Visually, the gritty crime-riddled streets of the East End rock a pretty convincing Swinging 60s aesthetic. From vintage cars to art deco clubs, it’s a palette of greys, browns, blues, blacks and whites played out over a retro soundtrack. The characters are deliberately contrasting, from the Krays and their cronies in monochrome and bloodstained suits, to Frances in pale pinks and paisleys. In the cinematic world of the Krays, colour is a big indicator of temperament and loyalty.
Spearheaded by a mesmerising Hardy, Legend is a funny and frightening version of a story we’ve all heard of. Like the title suggests, the Kray twins were legendary in their illegal endeavours. The brothers spent their remaining years in a prison cell, thankfully not given the opportunity to enjoy the attention they received. We, however, are well within our rights to enjoy it, because after all, film is entertainment, and Legend is entertaining in spades…
Legend is in cinemas now