Directed by Brian Helgeland
Written by Brian Helgeland
Tom Hardy Reggie Kray;
Tom Hardy Ronnie Kray;
Emily Browning Frances Shea;
Colin Morgan Frankie Shea;
David Thewlis Leslie Payne;
Christopher Ecclestone Nipper Read;
Chazz Palminteri Angelo Bruno;
Taron Egerton Mad Teddy Smith;
Aneurin Barnard David Bailey;
Paul Anderson Albert Donoghue;
"We're talking about being gangsters, which is what we are. "
- Ronnie Kray
Why not check out other gangster flicks
Written by Bada Bing
(2015) - Working Title Films
“London in the 1960s, everybody had a story about the Krays. You could walk into any pub, and hear a lie or two about them.” These are the opening lines of the movie, spoken in voice over from Frances Shea who narrates this gangster yarn, but make no mistake, while the movie centres around some hard facts, this is Brian Helgeland’s story about the Krays – some of it really happened, some of it didn’t, but it makes for a cracking story.
Helgeland wrote and directed this gangster flick; he called it Legend, which tells you that he’s not created a warts and all biopic of the brothers Kray, but rather added to the mythology that surrounds the vicious criminal twins.
The film dispenses with the Krays’ rise to power, preferring instead to concentrate on what made the Krays appear so glamorous, underscored by the violence that gave them their notorious reputation. Large parts of the movie play out like Romeo and Juliet; Reggie and Frances being the star crossed lovers “But, soft! What light through yonder window breaks?” only in this case it’s a Sherbert Lemon that breaks through Frances’ yonder window, thrown by Reggie before he shimmies up the drain pipe to propose to her.
Frances Shea is our story teller, providing the voiceover narration and we effectively see Reggie through her eyes and he’s one smooth talking, suave son-of-a-bitch. It’s easy to see why she would fall for him. He sells himself as more of a club owner than a gangster and he even promises to go straight. For three quarters of the movie Tom Hardy makes Reggie Kray one of the coolest gangsters on film. On their first date, we get a Goodfellas Henry Hill style moment when he takes Frances to his nightclub the Double R, where he knows everyone; everyone knows him and they all love him, even the London glitterati of the day. While on the date he has a little business to attend to; he listens to Jack ‘The Hat’ McVitie explain why he’s skimming the Kray’s money. Reggie lulls him into a false sense of security acting unconcerned about his indiscretion before knocking his teeth out. Then ala James Bond he returns to his date as if nothing happened. Like I said, smooth.
Ronnie on the other hand leaves everyone under no illusion about who he is: he’s a lunatic; homosexual; and a sociopath and he’s open about all three. He’s muscled out of a psychiatric hospital where he’s been diagnosed as clinically insane; he’s followed everywhere he goes by his two gay courtesans ‘Mad’ Teddy Smith and Leslie Holt; and he just loves to ‘straighten’ people out. Although his principle role in the movie is to provide the lumbering monster that attaches a lead weight to Reggie’s business and private life, he also provides most of the comic relief. His disbelief at a rival gangster who brought a "rolling-pin" to a gun fight is hilarious – he storms out of the boozer in a huff, disappointed he doesn’t get his western style shoot out. Tom Hardy delivers a Ronnie Kray that chills you to the bone more for his dead eyes that lack any kind of humanity than any of his depraved actions ever can.
Nearly all of my favourite moments in the film come when the violence erupts. Not because I live for the thirst of blood, but because they’re so well done and Helgeland adds just enough humour to soften the blow of the violence. The fight scenes, especially early on, are also where we catch a glimpse of the real Reggie Kray. Underneath his impeccable Saville Row tailoring he’s just an East End street thug… albeit with style. The first outbreak comes in the aforementioned scene when Ronnie expects pistols to be drawn at high noon. Despite being vastly outnumbered Reggie could not be any cooler if he tried. He delays and delays the start of the fight even pouring himself a Guinness, but then unleashes hell with a pair of brass knuckles. He and his brother, with the help of a lump hammer lay waste to their rivals just in time for him to top up the perfect pint of Guinness – Good things come to those who wait.
Another set piece that is choreographed to perfection is the fight between Ronnie and Reggie. What would usually be a standard bar brawl, becomes a thing of beauty because of the Hardy on Hardy action. What starts out as a bit of slapping descends into some really dirty moves, which leave both brothers surprised that the other would deploy such tactics. The immense scene took 5 days to shoot and uses split screen, body doubles, motion control and face replacement technology all to terrific effect.
Frances was there to witness the fight between the brothers and it’s the first time she’s seen the brutality that her Reggie is capable of and it’s a slippery slope for their relationship from there. They still get married, much to protestations of the mother-of-the-bride, who wears black to the wedding, but the honeymoon period is shot-lived. Frances becomes increasingly threatened by Ronnie for what he perceives as Reggie being taking away from him “We’ve been together since the womb” he tells her implying where he fits in the pecking order. She’s continuously undermined by not only Reggie and Ronnie, but also by their mother Violet and so becomes increasingly isolated and relies on her Mother’s Little Helpers (which surprisingly was not a cue for a Rolling Stones ditty) to help her get through her busy day! Ultimately she uses them to escape from a world she decides she can no-longer live in.
The inner conflict about his brother from which Reggie suffers is made clear in two telling comments. He tells Frances "My loyalty to my brother is how I measure myself" implying he’ll stand by his brother before his wife, despite Ronnie’s murderous actions in the Blind Beggar endangering everyone. And secondly following Reggie's frenzied knife attack on Jack ‘the Hat’ he tells his brother “I killed him because I can’t kill you”. Both of these brutal murders, by Ronnie and Reggie respectively, end up being the crimes, among many, that see them locked up, for good. Brian Helegland’s script points the finger firmly at Ronnie for the break-up of Reggie’s marriage, Frances' suicide and the twins respective life sentences. This absolves Reggie from most of his own short comings, but it fits the narrative of this gangster flick as Reggie being the lovable rouge and Ronnie the jealous out of control psychopath.
For a lot of this gangster flick Tom Hardy plays the brothers as two halves of the same person; Reggie the smart, good looking human side and Ronnie the short-sighted impulsive monster side. But Hardy is better than this over simplification and we later see more depth of character and a blurring of the lines with Reggie hinting to having a touch of the inner demons too and Ronnie admitting to his own insecurities and being “fragile”. While I think Academy Awards are beyond this performance, I’d love to see Tom Hardy pick up both a leading and supporting award on the same night; at the BAFTAs perhaps.
As a gangster flick, Legend is packed with regular gangster fodder: money laundering; protection rackets; murder; intimidation; and nightclub owning. Every gangster needs to own a nightclub, right? The Krays’ reputation among the gangster movers-and-shakers is enhanced and legitimised by dealings with the American Mafia. ‘The Gentle Don’ Angelo Bruno, boss of the Philadelphia Mafia acts as Meyer Lansky’s emissary who wants the Krays to provide protection for his London casino interests. Bruno also has ongoing business arrangements with the Krays, laundering his dirty bearer bonds. Chazz Palminteri provides the stateside glamour of the visiting mafia don in a brief cameo role.
The film is not without its missteps. First and foremost is the narration from Frances Shea. While Karen Hill in Goodfellas successfully shared the voiceover duties with Henry Hill, Frances appears to lack the depth of knowledge about her Reggie to be a reliable story teller in this case – afterall we see Reggie isolating her from his business activities. While I like the fact that our perception of Reggie Kray in the film mirrors that of Frances’; he starts out as a cheeky chappie, lovable rouge, but later we see him as a vicious monster at the same time as she does. But the character of Frances Shea requires further fleshing out to be able to compare her to or even care about her in the same way as Karen Hill.
This brings us onto the second misstep. All of the background characters are merely that, background. We see Paul Bettany all to briefly as rival gang leader Charlie Richardson. If you’ve seen Bettany in Gangster No.1 you’ll know what a missed opportunity this was. The other Firm members David Thewlis as Leslie Payne, Paul Anderson as Albert Donoghue and Charley Palmer Rothwell as Leslie Holt are all 2 dimensional. Perhaps the only exception was Taron Egerton as ‘Mad’ Teddy Smith who held his own, but he didn’t earn his ‘Mad’ moniker from any of the episodes captured here. The least said about the casting of the very talented Christopher Ecclestone as the Scotland Yard sleuth ‘Ripper’ Reid the better. Ecclestone could have been fantastic here, if he been given something to work with.
I’ve used the word misstep as an attempt to lessen any minor shortcomings; none of which detract too much from the movie - and in a way it’s almost excusable. Tom Hardy’s duel performances are so towering it’s hard for anything else to emerge from his double shadow. This is Tom Hardy’s movie, he carries it from start to finish and its success or failure rests squarely on his shoulders. I found this to be a hugely entertaining gangster flick, one of the best gangster Brit flicks to date and the risky gimmick of two Tom Hardy's for the price of one has massively paid off.
I can’t wait to watch it again.
Don't know if it's worth five dollars, but it's pretty fuckin' good
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Most Notable Gangster Moment:
Ronnie Kray strides in the Blind Beggar public house in Whitechapel, pulls out his pistol and puts a single bullet between the eyes of George Cornell.
Body Count: 2
1. In an unsanctioned assassination, Ronnie Kray shoots rival gangster George Cornell through the head in front of a hand full of witnesses in the Blind Beggar pub in Whitechapel
2. As a consequence for botching the hit on Leslie Payne and the continued disrespect he shows for the Krays, Reggie Kray savagely attacks and kills Jack ‘the hat’ McVitie with a knife; stabbing him over and over again.
Charlie Richardson delivers electric current to someones nipples in a torture scene
Reggie Kray wears a pair of knuckle dusters in a fight scene in a pub
In the same fight Ronnie uses a hammer
Reggie stabs Jack ‘The Hat’ McVitie over and over with a knife
The first shot of the film is of Ronnie and Reggie Kray in the back of their luxury 1965 Lincoln Continental cruising through Soho.
Firm member and driver Albert Donohue drives Reggie around East London and is seen losing the police tail in a 1664 Ford Galaxie 500 XL
After a run in with the Richardson gang Reggie is run over by George Cornell driving a 1960 Humber Super Snipe Series II
In retaliation for running down Reggie, the Krays send a Ford Thames 10cwt van through the window of where the Richardson gang are hanging out
Ronnie is driven around London in a 1967 Mercedes-Benz 200
As a birthday present Reggie buys Frances a 1967 Triumph Spitfire Mk3