Legend (18) | Close-Up Film review


Dir. Brian Helgeland, UK, 2015, 131 mins

Cast: Tom Hardy, Emily Browning, Christopher Ecclestone

In the 1960s East End, The Krays may well have been the kings of the capital, but Legend chooses a delicate line down the path of thuggery and glamour in order to track their inevitable decline.

Tom Hardy plays both twins; Hollywood good-looking, cheeky-chappy Reggie and bespectacled, unstable, Brando-like cotton-balls-in-cheeks Ronnie. The course of their story is driven by Frances Shea (Emily Browning) who married Reggie, as she recounts how she was drawn into the glitz and consequent gloom resulting from their gangster lifestyle.

The film opens as Frances narrates a taxi journey which sees Hardy and Hardy sit side by side. Her speech is well-balanced as it establishes her early hope and wonder, yet always contains a foreboding edge of warning. Within this frame the action begins with a delicate china cup of tea in each hand of Reggie Kray as he jauntily swaggers out of his family home. He approaches obsessed policeman “Nipper” Read (Christopher Ecclestone) to offer “a cuppa” to him and his partner while they maintain their round-the-clock vigil on the Kray homestead.

This establishes the tonal thrust for much of the early part of the film. The classy night club music of The Sixties provides the backdrop to Frances’ and Reggie’s courtship, while the tension is created by Ronnie’s feeling that he is losing his brother and partner-in-crime. Frances is determined to make Reggie go straight, where Ronnie loves being a gangster and is confused by his brother’s shame at what they do.

Ronald Kray’s mental health is a large narrative hinge. Towards a thorny issue, Brian Helgeland has taken the decision to laugh with, rather than at Ronnie’s milder quirks and frustrations. Until Kray oversteps in ‘The Blind Beggar’ pub, it feels like those around him, and possibly the audience are not taking his condition seriously enough.

Hardy draws two remarkably different identical twin characters. To compare the fiction to reality, Ronnie is visually very close to the real man. The police mug shots of the brothers’ show how accurate costuming has managed to resurrect the gangsters. The different type of tenderness within them both is tempered by a brooding capacity for violence. Both Krays boxed and weren’t afraid to get their hands dirty. Reggie gets his hands particularly dirty after an incident arising from Ronnie’s paranoia towards their legal advisor and moneyman, Leslie Payne. Hardy’s physical screen presence makes this highly believable, the violence that erupts from the pair is entirely natural, and it hovers around them even during otherwise peaceful scenes.

The film could have done with sneaking under the two-hour mark as it fought for an ending. Frances’ flabby expositional speech closes the drama but couldn’t match the poignant beginning to her tale.

It is visually rich; Dick Pope reinforces his work on Mr. Turner by painting a suitably dated, yet smooth wash across the cinematography. The singer Duffy crops up in the Kray’s East End club as the resident songstress, her vintage voice lending a similarly stylish facet of the era to Legend, a consistently compelling dramatisation of troubled siblings and an even more troubled marriage.

Review by George Meixner

[SRA value=”4″ type=”BIG”]