Based on the book ‘The Profession Of Violence: The Rise And Fall Of The Kray Twins’ by John Pearson, Writer/ Director Brian Helgeland’s “Legend” takes a look at the notorious East End gangsters from their ascent to the top of the underworld hierarchy to the events which would prove to be their downfall. Glossy, stylish and handsomely staged it lacks any real substance and is decidedly more hagiography than impartial biography as it lovingly recreates the swinging London of the sixties which the pair are reputed to have dominated.
Held together by a not entirely successful narrative device, the story unfolds in a series of episodes which are strung together rather than a seamlessly flowing narrative. Production wise, there’s a flat, TV-style quality to the film especially in the lighting and meticulous, almost fetishistic recreation of 1960s London. At times it feels like a particularly star-studded special episode of “Call The Midwife” rather than an unvarnished biopic of London’s notorious gangster subculture.
“Legend” is decidedly pro-Krays in its portrayal of their actions and motivations, with the establishment portrayed as inept, impotent and even complicit in their activities. On the twins themselves, Helgeland goes so far as to infer that without Ronnie’s psychotic tendencies, Reggie might even have reined it in and gone legit. I came out of the film knowing little more about the Krays than I did going in, but as a showcase for the performances of a lifetime by Hardy, it’s an astonishing film. As a showcase for Duffy’s wigmaker, however, it’s a disaster.
Tom Hardy’s best performances often dance along a knife-edge of comedy and drama and in his dual portrayal of the Krays, he’s able to exploit both to incredible effect. You have to remind yourself that it’s the same actor, so complete is the transformation and only once do the seamless special effects let the film down thanks to some conspicuously off sightlines during a pub-based confrontation between Reggie and Ronnie but it’s a small imperfection in an otherwise flawless performance.
With a supporting cast including Christopher Eccleston, Taron Egerton, David Thewlis, Colin Morgan and Paul Bettany, there’s enough British acting talent on show to compensate for the superficial storytelling and Australian actress Emily Browning affects a flawless English accent to play Frances ‘Frankie’ Shea, the love of Reggie’s life.
Ultimately, I enjoyed it even though I’m not sure it should have been an enjoyable watch. Much of the Krays’ brutal reign is inferred rather than shown; despite the film’s 18 certificate and what violent scenes there are have an underlying air of comic slapstick to them even though they remain savage and bloody. It can never shake off the feeling that it’s all a bit of a lark, a jolly East End knees-up with a bunch of gangsters who may have been a bit rough, but were always good to their dear old Mum.