A classic crime thriller, this is the story of Britain’s most notorious gangsters, Reggie and Ronnie Kray (both played by Tom Hardy), as they have the time of their lives, ruling over London in the midst of the Swinging Sixties.
With Ronnie fresh out of prison, the brothers set about consolidating their power in the East End. They take on the ruthless South London gangster Charlie Richardson (Paul Bettany) and his gang, and work with the American Mafia, which is keen to move into the UK. Hailed as celebrities, the Krays are courted by the rich and famous, and their influence extends to the higher levels of the British Establishment. Meanwhile, Reggie falls for a local girl, Frances Shea (Emily Browning), who urges him to go straight, but old habits die-hard.
Written and directed by Brian Helgeland, he is a man most familiar with the crime genre. He wrote LA Confidential, Man on Fire, The Taking of Pelham 123, Conspiracy Theory, Green Zone and Mystic River and wrote and directed Mel Gibson’s Payback. The question for him, in this instance, was how to do justice to the truth because it has been submerged beneath 50 years of hearsay.
It was only after he spoke to a former Kray associate that he found a way into the story and that turned out to be through Reggie wife, Frances Shea, who became the film’s narrator. The result is a compelling and engaging yarn, if a decidedly frenzied and bloodied one.
Tom Hardy hasn’t put a foot wrong since his breakthrough performance in Inception in 2010. Thoroughly professional and polished, he prides himself on inhabiting his roles like few others and so it is here. He has a searing presence in playing both the Kray twins, one charismatic and the other psychopathic. Hardy makes it impossible to look away. It is not overstated to say this is, indeed, a bravura performance.
I am a big fan, too, of Australian actress Emily Browning, who shot to prominence when she appeared in Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events. The controversial Sleeping Beauty, which pushed the envelope, followed several years later.
The sets, the settings, the make-up and the sounds give Legend an edge. Helgeland has done a fine job establishing the backdrop, building the empire and then sending it crashing to the ground with what can best be termed personal heartbreak at its core. It was a top idea to have Frances Shea as the storyteller, a storyteller for whom there is a twist.
Rated MA, Legend is brutal but ever so watchable and scores a 7½ to 8 out of 10.
Director: Brian Helgeland
Cast: Tom Hardy, Emily Browning, Taron Egerton
Release Date: 15 October, 2015
David Edwards is the editor of The Blurb and a contributor on film and television