Legend – Film Review

A new film about the Krays does little to dispel their glamorous gangster image

From Al Capone to Bugsy Siegel, gangsters have always been the rock stars of the crime world. No matter how violent, sinister and downright awful these men – and they are always men – behaved, history tends to look back at these criminals with rose-tinted awe. Despite having murder, arson, assault and dodgy protection rackets under the belts, 1960s London underworld icons The Kray twins have been looked upon with relative kindness; they might have beat the shit out anyone who crossed them, but they loved their muvvas and were mates with Barbara Windsor – which should be enough to let you off, right?

Well, pretty much. In 1990 – before Ronnie’s death of a heart attack in 1995 and Reggie’s from bladder cancer in 2000 – there was The Krays, which cast pretty boy pop stars Gary and Martin Kemp as the East End crims, unapologetically playing on the musicians’ glitzy backgrounds and further maintaining the brothers reputation as glorious gangland celebrities.

The casting of Legend doesn’t do much to shift this perception. Homegrown hottie Tom Hardy plays both brothers in a two-for-the price-of-one deal that’s better than anything you’re likely to pick up in the Sainbury’s frozen food aisle.

Slipping on a pair of horn-rimmed glasses and affecting a plodding, gruff voice for Ronnie then working a charming-ladies-man vibe for Reggie, Hardy plays the sharply dressed siblings to perfection, occasionally teetering on the pantomime, but never quite falling into full cockney pastiche. Impressively, he manages to create real chemistry and tension between the two characters, which is no mean feat, considering he’s only got himself to bounce off of. However, moments of humour and tenderness between the brothers only go to make the film’s inevitable scenes of violence all the more unsettling.

In amongst the cheery one-liners and proto-EastEnders chirpiness, Legend boasts Tarantino levels of brutality. The violence is short, sharp and intense; it’s slicker and more choreographed than the real thing, but just as visceral and hard to watch. A seamless smackdown between the brothers in one of the nightclubs they owned is impressive considering it seems as if the only special effect used is a Peep Show style point of view shot. Yet while one of the film’s most harrowing moments, a bleak suggestion of sexual violence between Reggie and his wife Frances, is disturbingly sparse in its portrayal.

Australian actress Emily Browning as Reggie’s maltreated partner offers a depressing but necessary female voice to what is, at its very core, a very male story. A sympathetic script manages to make Legend as much her story as it is the brothers, but there’s not a happy ending between them.