Tom Hardy and Tom Hardy as Ronnie Kray and Reggie Kray.
>Cert 18 | ★★★★☆
The Kray twins would have loved that there’s a film about them called Legend. Being wanted for a litany of crimes – extortion, robbery, intimidation – didn’t stop them courting the limelight at the height of London’s swinging sixties.
Being well-connected may have made them untouchable, but it was being glamorous that made them notorious.
Despite spending half their lives in prison, the Krays have taken on an almost mythical quality, and it’s this Arthurian definition of “legend” – rather than the one Dave uses down the pub – that’s inspired this latest attempt to chronicle their antics.
A 1990 film starring Gary and Martin Kemp pointed to their controlling mother and early life on the mean streets of Laaandan to explain their later transgressions.
Legend isn’t interested in all that; why get bogged down in biography when you can investigate infamy?
Instead, it squares up to the Krays at the height of their power when they’re on the cusp of striking a deal with the American mafia to open a chain of casinos in the West End. Does it glamourise gangsterism?
Probably, but it’s hard to make an understated film about identical twins who shoot people in the face in crowded pubs.
Tom Hardy plays both brothers – a feat that involves some neat camera trickery – but the magic of the editing suite is quickly overshadowed by his mesmerising performance.
Reggie is the main plot driver, but Ronnie is the one who stays with you when the credits roll.
He isn’t just insane with rage: he’s properly insane. His unpredictable frankness is both hilarious and terrifying: “I like boys,” he drawls menacingly when he first meets the Mafia. “I like giving it though, not taking it; that’s an important difference.”
Heavier, slower and more slack-jawed than Reggie, Hardy’s characterisation is so strong it’s impossible to confuse the two, even while they’re standing next to each other.
The writing is a little clunky in places (“‘What does he mean when he says he wants to raspberry someone?’ ‘Raspberry ripple – ‘e wants to cripple 'im’”) and Emily Browning’s role as Reggie’s long-suffering wife Frances Shea is disappointingly hollow, as she spends most of her screen time tugging on his Savile Row suit, whinging “Why don’t you go straight, Reggiiiiieeee?”
But Hardy’s triumphant, flamboyant turn as the Kray twins far outweighs such trifles. It may not be legendary, but my word it’s a lot of fun.