In 1960s London, the Kray twins – Ronnie and Reggie (both played by Tom Hardy) – ran the underworld and made a name for themselves at the same time. When Reggie meets Frankie (Emily Browning) and Ronnie’s mental health takes a turn for the worse, it is not long before the Krays begin to lose the empire they have so carefully built up.
There is little doubt that the Kray twins are fascinating, if horrifying, people and even now, many years after their deaths, there are still mysteries that surround the two men and their actions in the London underworld. The story has been told on screen before, but this time out, it seems that the Kray twins have been undermined by two stellar performances from Tom Hardy.
Hardy is wonderful in the leading roles; charming, magnanimous and quietly frightening as Reggie, and tightly wound, volatile and violent as Ronnie. Hardy makes sure that the audience can always tell the difference between the characters and, while making Reggie reasonable but impatient, makes Ronnie unhinged and unpredictable. Emily Browning does not really have a lot to do – other than narrate the film in a slightly twee manner – but she is fine in the role of Reggie’s love interest Frankie. Christopher Eccleston has an even smaller role as Nipper Read, the police officer who pursued the Krays, and David Thewlis, Paul Bettany and Taron Edgerton turn up at various points in the film.
Brian Helgeland’s screenplay is based on the book ‘The Profession of Violence: The Rise and Fall of the Kray Twins’ by John Pearson, but manages to fudge some of the details of the twins’ lives, or perhaps take liberties with the truth for the sake of drama. The dialogue is mostly fine, with Hardy as Reggie bringing much of the warmth to the film, but it is in trying to cover such a large chunk of the twins lives, through the eyes of only one of them, that the film stumbles and begins to feel episodic.
As director, Helgeland has coaxed a stunning performance from Hardy as both twins, but allows the other characters in the film to fall by the wayside. The film tries to focus on the strength of the relationship between Reggie and Ronnie, and the dissolution of the same, but in doing this through the eyes of an outsider – Frankie – the film loses coherence. Stylishly shot and a true period piece, there are times when the music choices in Legend feel a little too on the nose and this, coupled with the film’s scattered feeling, Legend becomes a film that could have been a great yarn, but instead becomes one based on strong performances.
In all, Legend is filled with strong performances – none moreso than Tom Hardy as Reggie and Ronnie Kray – but seems more interested in creating a feel for the times than telling the story of the twins. This means the film ends up feeling scattered, muddled and, oddly, a little like a caricature of itself. Worth seeing for Hardy’s performances, but don’t expect legend to answer any burning questions about the Krays.