Director: Brian Helgeland
Starring: Tom Hardy, Emily Browning, David Thewlis, Paul Bettany, Christopher Eccleston, Chazz Palminteri
Words: S. Nix
Part love story, part family drama and part gangster flick, Legend sees Tom Hardy take on the rolls of both of London’s most notorious gangsters, the Kray Twins; Ronald and Reginald. Twenty-five years after the release of The Krays in which the eponymous rolls were played by the Kemp brothers Martin and Gary, does Hardy’s portrayal bring anything fresh to the tale of London’s most infamous sons?
Set against the backdrop of swinging sixties the film focuses on Reggie Kray, his ongoing relationship with Frances Shea (Browning) and his struggle with the erratic behaviour of his certifiable brother Ronnie. As he struggles to run a club and (as he adamantly insists) a legitimate business, events spiral inexorably out of control despite his best efforts to live a life both Frances and Ronnie can be a part of. Meanwhile, the Krays are constantly under the keen surveillance of Detective Superintendent “Nipper” Read (Ecclestone).
Reggie is charming and likeable enough to begin with but by story’s end has tranformed into a pitiful wretch who has all but lost the audience’s support in a masterful performance by Hardy.
Likewise, the Bronson actor channels the necessary neuroticism in his portrayal of Ronnie Kray who makes every bad decision possible at each opportunity but he is not so smothered in insanity that the audience can’t glimpse a man who genuinely loves his brother and is tormented by his own mental illness.
Emily Browning’s Frances is a flower growing amongst the grime and the glamour of London’s East End, plucked by the whirlwind of violence and destruction that is Ronnie and Reggie Kray with tragic consequences. When her courtship of Reggie begins, as perfect as everything may seem, it’s evident to the viewer that nothing good will ultimately come of it, lending an ominous feel to a relatively light-hearted first hour and a half.
One gets the sense that only Hardy could pull off the feat of playing two twins whilst giving them their own distinct characters and making you completely forget they’re the same person. Of course, with a resumé including biopics such as Bronson (2008) and Lawless (2012) in which he plays a famously insane criminal and a Prohibition-era gangster brother respectively, Hardy is the obvious, if not the only choice to place faith in with such roles.
Legend is much more than a gripping crime thriller, though it is that. It’s a study into how far a man will go to save a fraternal and a romantic relationship whilst fighting against obstacles such as the law, mental illness and, ultimately, his own inner darkness.