To fans of good value, the idea of Tom Hardy playing both Reggie and Ronnie Kray in a biopic about the notorious cockney twins should appeal massively. Hey, it’s two for the price of one, after all. While we’re on the subject of saving, plenty of time is saved at the beginning of the new film about the pair, Legend. There’s no need for any drawn-out exposition of who’s who and what’s what. Let’s be honest, who isn’t familiar with the story of the ex-boxer brothers who ruled 60s London with an iron fist and a cheeky wink? And that’s one of the biggest problems with Brian Helgeland’s new film. When you tackle a big subject you’re duty bound to add something to it. Unfortunately, Legend doesn’t follow this rule.
Anyone with even a passing fancy in true crime will know this story inside and out. Identical twins rising up through the ranks of the criminal underworld, facing off against rival gangsters like Charlie Richardson (played here by a criminally underused Paul Bettany) and determined coppers (Christopher Eccleston, since you ask). Reggie’s the strong but fair one, Machiavellian, a leader. And Ronnie – the wildly unpredictable one – an open homosexual with a taste for violence and chaos. With Hardy eating up the screen like he’s been on a year-long hunger strike, there’s very little to actively dislike here. But we’re offered nothing new. No extra insight or detail. Hey – it’s Tom Hardy playing the Krays. Great. But it could have been so much more.
On the surface, Legend has everything you might want from a film about the Kray twins: Brylcreem, slick tailoring, sudden outbursts of extreme violence and two murderous Cockneys having a nice cup of tea with their mum. Everything that Peter Medak’s 1990 film The Krays had, in fact. But what that picture didn’t have was Tom Hardy (it had to make do with 50% of Spandau Ballet instead). And while his casting in both roles is really just one giant gimmick, only the most miserly cinemagoer would fail to get a kick out of it. Hardy clearly had a ball making the film and it shows. True, his performance lurches into ham territory on a number of occasions, but we’ll forgive him that minor trespass. After all, he is Tom Hardy.
When the focus is on the actual dynamic between the two siblings, the clever camera tricks come into play and things get interesting. The only trouble is, this happens far too infrequently. Instead, we’re given huge chunks dedicated to the relationship between Reggie and his woefully-underwritten girlfriend-cum-wife Frances (played dutifully by the wide-eyed but resigned Emily Browning). Let’s be honest: how many people have ever considered the Krays and thought, ‘I wonder what Reggie’s relationship with his wife was like?’
The film is based on the book The Profession of Violence: The Rise and Fall of the Kray Twins by the biographer John Pearson. If you like tie pins, cocktail glasses, knuckle dusters and, above all, lots and lots of Tom Hardy, Legend is for you. If you prefer searing insights into the history of the capital’s criminal underbelly, maybe stick to the Captain Cook (book).