Looking at the poster for Brian Helgeland’s latest film, Legend, you’d be forgiven you were suffering from (a slightly inexact) double vision.
The names are the same, but the men below them aren’t. Tom Hardy stars along Tom Hardy (himself) as Reginald and Ronald Kray, the notorious twins who held Sixties London in a grip of both fear and awe.
On the fear front there’s Ron, a terrifying buffoon, a paranoid schizophrenic who’s off his meds, and a stare-y, scary, unexpectedly comic creation. Reg, meanwhile, definitely the more polished of the two, is a romantic gent and club owner, well-liked in the community but ultimately no less dangerous for his popularity.
And then there’s Frances (Emily Browning), the lovely local girl whose courtship by Reg provides a structure to the film, and whose fairy-tale voice-over guides us through the style and seediness of the East End underworld.
Helgeland’s script focuses almost entirely on the characters of Reg and Ron themselves, the conflict between the two of them as Ron wreaks havoc and garners unwanted press, getting involved with the plummy, perv-y Lord Boothby (John Sessions) for one, while Reg tries to build inroads with the American Mafia, represented here by Chaz Palminteri.
They also have to contend with Detective Chief Superintendent Nipper Read (Christopher Eccleston), a stuffed shirt who’s mostly good at glowering disapprovingly and declining cups of tea, but represents the forces of law and order.
Legend seems to exist solely as a vehicle for Hardy’s talents – this story has, of course, been told before, most notably in The Krays, which starred Spandau Ballet guitarists Martin and Gary Kemp – and it’s true whenever he is on screen as either Ron or Reg, let alone the pair, the effect is electrifying. The film includes a vicious, knock-down, drag-out brawl, jumping from Reg’s POV to Ron’s and back as the two grapple.
Hardy’s sheer intensity and commitment sells what could otherwise seem like a contrivance, and Helgeland’s direction, slick but not showy, plays to the film’s strengths (namely him). Everything else seems prerequisite.
It may be The Tom Hardy Show, but he’s not alone in deserving praise. Taron Egerton’s cackling yet strangely gentle Teddy is a notable scene stealer, as is Paul Bettany as a classically educated South London rival, who loves football, among other things.
At 131 minutes the film is packed with (semi-historical) incident; the Krays themselves are shown less as gangsters than rock star – moral judgments are, for the most part, suspended, even while the pair tear up the East End and injure those around them, including those they love the most.
If you’re looking for any insight, though, about postwar Britain or criminal compulsion, or even just strong female characters, you should probably stick with Peter Medak’s earlier take. The period soundtrack is pretty fantastic, though; Herman’s Hermits and all
If you’re looking to see Tom Hardy give it his all in the role(s) of a lifetime – Best Actor (Reg) and/or Best Supporting (Ron) noms seem a possibility – then Legend could be just the thrill ride you’re looking for.