Upon coming into contact with the book The Profession of Violence: The Rise and Fall of the Kray Twins by John Pearson, Legend producer Tim Bevan wasn’t initially convinced to make a film. He understood that a certain ‘hook’ was necessary to transform the material into a film of sufficient interest. Upon viewing Legend, it is quite easy to identify that deciding coup: Tom Hardy.
This is not the first time the notorious gangsters Reggie and Ronnie Kray – the fearsome gangland operators of 1960’s East London – have been portrayed on film. Back in 1990 brothers Martin & Gary Kemp, actors and musicians of Spandau Ballet, played the pair in The Krays by Hungarian director Peter Medak (The Changeling.) That film, in spite of its gritty and rather eerie sense of atmosphere has certainly aged in 25 years, so Legend is not unwelcome in 2015.
Aided by state-of-the-art post-production, Tom Hardy performs a fantastically entertaining double act as both Reggie and Ronnie Kray. In Reggie Kray, Hardy finds a measured, patrician character with a life that teeters dangerously between the rational and the outrageous. In Ronnie there is no such rationality; he is mentally unstable, fanciful, enormously dangerous, yet endearingly sensitive and curiously open about his homosexuality.
While the film is unashamed in it’s larger-than-life – and pleasingly hammy – conception of these characters, there is plenty to be surprised by. Not least by Tom Hardy’s remarkable ability to create a rapport between the twins (often seen in immaculately constructed two shots) that is continuously compelling to watch. It is often said that good acting is in fact truthful reacting; so quite how Hardy managed to provide both the action and reaction in so many scenes will remain a compelling reason to watch the film.
The film feels less accomplished in its handling of the history, although the setup is good; narrated from the point of view of Reggie’s young wife Frances Shae, the film features a welcome female view on an otherwise overwhelmingly macho scene. The issue here is that – other than establish the story and highlight Frances somewhat – this perspective never truly affects the rather predictable vision of obscene violence and macho posturing that the film happily indulges in generic fashion; perhaps this was to be expected from a film called Legend.
The film is most interesting in its dealing with Ronnie Kray’s relationships with men. While reveling frequently in distinctly old-fashioned gay jokes, the film makes no bones about his queerness: a refreshing attribute in a British gangster flick. The most admirable view of the Kray Twins available here is in their ability to defend one another, no matter how they personally transgressed the norms of their time and place.
In Legend, director Brain Helgeland has made a curious film, not without the qualities of a ‘guilty pleasure.’ This is a film to be enjoyed for Tom Hardy’s overwhelming, but never boring, domination of screen time and space.