Thursday, 17 September 2015

Legend (2015)

Did anyone else think Tom Hardy's Ronnie Kray looked like Patrick Marber ?

That aside, Legend is a wonderful evocation of 60s London and the Kray twins 'Legend'. Now, the story of Ronnie and Reggie Kray isn't new to cinema - the infamous twins were previously the subject of The Krays, an OK 1990 movie starring Spandau Ballet brothers Gary and Martin Kemp - but it is surprising to think that their notorious gangland empire has only been told on the big screen a total of three times now (with a straight-to-DVD cash in The Rise of The Krays coming hot on the heels of this film) Simply put, there's room for more than one telling of their tale especially as the film points out, everyone in London in the 1960s had a story about the Krays (and anyone outside of the capital invariably has a story concerning how their town simply said no to them; a folkloric tale of how your local criminal fraternity or police force met their armed might with nothing but grit and directed them back to the Euston train) Legend is LA Confidential screenwriter and director Brian Helgeland's take on the twins and it's surprising to see how much an American actually gets it.

Helgeland's script is based on John Pearson's celebrated true crime biography, The Profession of Violence, a brilliant read that has rarely - if ever - gone out of print since it was first published in the early 70s.  Helgeland has cleverly constructed the material to focus around what one could argue was a love triangle at the heart of the twins criminal empire; Reggie loves Ronnie and Ronnie loves Reggie, but Reggie also loves Frances, the sister of his driver played by the striking Australian actress Emily Browning and who provides the film's narrative hook with a personable, intimate voice over. Cleverly, Helgeland both mines '60s nostalgia and centres Reggie and Frances' relationship on a shared love for lemon sherbets but, just like that sweet, things can turn sour and bitter -there's just too much love burning away in this particular triangle and, though its depicted dreamily enough to start with, it can only ever lead to a hate filled fatal fallout and Frances' voice over finally quashes that foolish, sentimental old myth that the Krays 'only ever hurt their own'; with Frances' story, it's all too clear that innocents got hurt too.

But the main thing to see Legend for is Tom Hardy who plays both Ronnie and Reggie Kray in a move that is a real tour de force. He manages to make both performances so utterly distinctive that for much of the time you will, like I did, forget you are watching the same actor in two different roles. He is nothing short of brilliant here and if you thought his Bronson was a terrifying and unnervingly hilarious monster then you haven't seen anything until you've seen his Ronnie Kray.

There's able support too from the likes of David Thewlis, Christopher Eccleston, Mel Raido, Paul Anderson, Sam Spruell and, as Charlie Richardson, the Krays South London rival, Paul Bettany.

Without a doubt this is the best movie about the Krays, surpassing even the thinly veiled depictions of their reign of terror such as The Long Firm, but you'll be surprised just how tame some of the violence actually is - not for Legend the shock inducing scenes like the infamous sword in a snooker hall moment from Peter Medak's 1990 take. Clearly Helgeland is more interested in the emotional side - what made the brothers tick and how the people close to them that they wanted to care for and look after such as Frances got burned - and the shoulders they began to rub on account of their infamy; Joan Collins and Barbara Windsor are namechecked, Chazz Palminteri turns up as the Mafia connection, John Sessions (a former Harold Wilson in Made In Dagenham) pops up here as Lord Boothby, whilst Kevin McNally steps in as Harold Wilson, but it's a shame that Aneurin Bernard's scenes as David Bailey (a role he had previously played in the BBC4 biopic We'll Take Manhattan) seems to have ended up on the cutting room floor. The film is lavishly designed by Tom Conroy and beautifully shot by Dick Pope whilst Carter Burwell provides a memorable music score which is peppered with familiar hits of the day, some of which are sung in the film by Duffy in a role as Timi Yuro, the chanteuse in one of the twins' clubs.

But, that title - Legend is such a non-event isn't it? Why not, The Profession of Violence?

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