“London in the 1960’s, everyone had a story about the Krays…”
This first line of Legend harks back to Goodfellas’ infamous opener: “As far back as I can remember I always wanted to be a gangster”; And for good reason, as we are swept into a criminal underworld, in this case the East end, and the lives of Ronnie and Reggie Kray, the most notorious gangsters England has ever seen.
We enter as Ronnie Kray is completing a three year stint in ‘Boom and Mizzen’ (prison*), and while he’s been away, Reggie has began cementing their position as kings of the East End, while falling for the sweet Francis (the charismatic Emily Browning). The Kray stock is on the rise, and Ronnie is questionably released, bringing his bull-in-a-china-shop brawn to ring in a reign of terror and muscle over London. Though as their empire expands, Ronnie’s madness threatens to engulf the pair.
Hardy is truly magnetic as the infamous twins; he simmers like a coiled spring as charming Reggie, while positively fizzing off the screen like a firework as the dangerous Ronnie, flicking between hilarious and volatile, and you could accuse Hardy of over-egging it if it wasn’t so utterly, believably mad. It is a brilliant use of technology to have Hardy play both Krays because it is completely invisible; the interplay between the two is seamless and effortless, and Hardy, building on his similarly menacing and maniacal portrayal of Charles Bronson, is probably the only actor in the business who could pull off this feat. There is also a great turn from the perennially brilliant David Thewlis as Leslie Payne, the thorn between the two brothers, and Christopher Eccleston does well with little as investigating officer Nipper Read.
Though Hardy is brilliant, the direction is spirited – yet confusing and debatable. In order to suck us into worlds of morally questionable characters, such as in Goodfellas and Wolf of Wall Street, the direction is slick and intoxicating, jumping through time and space to draw us into their universe, inviting us to want to be a gangster or a stock-broker. Because of this, we can forgive the central character almost anything. Certain sequences seem to emulate this, such as a brilliant Copacabana-esque long-take in the Krays club, but parts of the film lack the flare and visual effortlessness of Scorsese’s films, and the fact that it is Francis, Reggie’s love interest, who narrates the story, we aren’t invited to want to be like the Krays, or necessarily sympathise with them we do with Henry Hill or Jordan Belfort. This makes their actions hard to stomach, and the glorification of the thugs is questionable, particularly one scene which is brushed over incidentally.
The title, Legend, invites us to mythologise the Kray twins and their empire, though the film neither invites us to revel in their chaos nor admonish their actions, and the result leaves a bad taste in the ‘old north and south’ (mouth*).
Legend is in cinemas nationwide now.