Director: Brian Helgeland
Major Players: Tom Hardy, Emily Browning, David Thewlis
Out Of Five: 4
After a couple of warm up acts – one documentary and one low budget – the main attraction arrives. The one everybody is talking about. Legend. So what’s the big deal? Tom Hardy playing both of the notorious twins, Ronnie and Reggie Kray, that’s what.
Has he pulled it off? He comes extremely close. His Reggie is immaculate, both in terms of his performance and his appearance – beautiful suits, not a hair out of place and the smoothest of shaves. Woe betide any barber who nicked him! But he also gets right inside the complexity of the man, his apparently easy manner and the way he could turn on the violence in the blink of an eye – sometimes even less – and it didn’t matter who’s on the receiving end. There’s also the love-hate relationship with his twin, Ronnie: he’d never let his brother down, yet he’s constantly aware that he’s tied to him whether he wants to be or not. It’s makes for profound resentment, because he’s always having to put right the messes that Ronnie leaves behind. And there are plenty of those.
Playing Ronnie is an even bigger ask. Here’s a man with a number of psychological problems, including schizophrenia, who has lived away from the world from some time and is a misfit in all senses of the word. He’s paranoid, uncomfortably frank about his sexuality at a time when homosexuality was illegal, and the way he tips over the edge into extreme violence is terrifying. But where Hardy doesn’t quite put his finger on Ronnie’s essence is when he over-acts. It’s not by much, but it really sticks out, given the overall standard of both performances.
The film charts the rise and fall of the twins, as seen through the eyes of Reggie’s girlfriend and eventual wife, Frances (Emily Browning), an approach that gives us all of Reggie’s charm but doesn’t hold back in showing how the Krays went about their business. Browning looks absolutely right and is perfectly suited to the fashions of the day. But there’s something missing in her performance and it’s reflected elsewhere in the film. She’s the another key character suffering from mental illness, constantly being referred to as delicate and fragile. It’s apparent that she had some kind of mental breakdown, but you’d never know. She might be tiny compared to Hardy, but she comes across as determined, confident and even just a wee bit feisty.
The film re-creates the 60s superbly well. Right from the start, there’s Christopher Eccleston’s ‘Nipper’ Read keeping an eye on Reggie from a comical, boxy little car that looks like something out of Trumpton. Kray, of course, drives something a lot flashier. The rows of terraced houses and cobbled streets – not in any romantic sense, because the houses are grubby and have peeling paint on the outside – create the era, as do the smoky pubs and knock-out soundtrack that includes Herman’s Hermits, Helen Shapiro and The Yardbirds.
If there’s one other weakness, then it’s the film’s length. At two hours and ten minutes, it’s a large slice of cinema and it’s questionable whether it needs to be quite that long. It’s not rushed the story, but a snip here and there wouldn’t have gone amiss.
The cast is full of familiar British faces who, in some instances, play familiar British faces. Kevin McNally as Harold Wilson and John Sessions as Lord Boothby, for instance. Tara Fitzgerald is terrific as Frances’ mother, who is so steadfastly opposed to her daughter getting mixed up with Reggie Kray that she wears black to their wedding. And Taron Edgerton takes a step up in class from Kingsman:The Secret Service to play Teddy Smith, Ronnie’s one man audience, knowing exactly when to laugh, applaud and agree.
But this is Hardy’s film and he dominates it from start to finish. Playing both twins is a bold move and he so nearly pulls it off. It’s a near-miss that is seriously worth seeing and reinforces his reputation even further as one of the most versatile and magnetic actors on the screen.
Legend is released in cinemas around the UK on Wednesday, 9 September and is also reviewed on Talking Pictures.