Movie Review | Legend (Lights, Camera, Action!)

By Freda Cooper 09.09.2015

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Legend (UK Rating: 18)

After a couple of warm-ups - a documentary and a low budget drama - it's time for the film about the Kray twins that everybody's been talking about. Legend, with Tom Hardy on double duty as both Ronnie and Reggie, storms into cinemas this Wednesday, 9th September. It gives the film a certain novelty value - remember Gary and Martin Kemp as The Krays in 1990? - but the good news is that there's more to it than that.
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The film traces the rise and fall of two of the most notorious criminals in modern British history, who ruled London's East End during the late 1950s and most of the 1960s. It is seen through the eyes of Reggie's girlfriend, and subsequent wife, Frances (Emily Browning), who also acts as the narrator, and it's an approach that highlights all of his charm, but doesn't back away from showing how the brothers went about their business. Has the gamble of the same actor playing both parts actually paid off, though?

The answer is that it has come extraordinarily close. As Reggie, Hardy gets right under the skin of the smoother of the two; a complex man with an apparently easy manner whom can turn on the violence in the blink of an eye, his relationship with his twin is decidedly love-hate: he would never let him down, but he's sorely conscious of being tied to him and it causes the deepest resentment.


 
Playing Ronnie is an even bigger ask, however, as this is a man with psychological problems, the main one being schizophrenia. He is someone who has lived away from the world, is paranoid, and uncomfortably frank about his sexuality (homosexuality was illegal at the time). The way he tips over the edge into extreme violence is truly terrifying, but Hardy's performance falls down because of the occasional lapse into over-acting. It isn't often, but it sticks out like the proverbial sore thumb, given the standard of the rest of his performance, yet, curiously, Director Brian Helgeland has said that Ronnie was the part that Hardy most wanted to play.

There are definite echoes of the gangster movie to end all gangster movies, The Godfather, from the meeting to sort out the turf war with rival family, the Richardsons, to Reggie's courtship of Frances. It may be more romantic than Michael Corleone's wooing of Kay, but Frances' efforts to deny the truth about her husband to herself and everybody else, and the pain of facing facts is still exactly the same. In comparison to their American counterparts, though, the Krays were small fry, and that becomes acutely obvious in the film through their dealings with a gang from across The Pond, represented by Bruno (Chazz Palminteri).

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The '60s setting is recreated superbly, especially the glamour of club land that played an increasingly important part in the growth of the twins' empire. The suits are sharp, the skirts are short, the locations are plush, and the soundtrack is nostalgia personified, with music from Helen Shapiro, The Yardbirds, and Herman's Hermits. The less affluent side of life is portrayed with equal accuracy: the streets are cobbled, the paint on the terraced houses is peeling, and the pubs are brown and smoky, plus there's a nicely cheeky scene at the start with 'Nipper' Read (Christopher Eccleston) keeping an eye on Reggie from a comical little car that could be straight out of Trumpton. Kray, of course, drives something a lot flashier.

8/10
Rated 8 out of 10

Great - Silver Award

Rated 8 out of 10
Fans of gangster movies - and, indeed, of Tom Hardy - will love Legend, but with its strong cast and characters, spot-on sense of period, and fascinating story, it has an even broader appeal. Yes, it's violent and the language is strong - it's an 18 certificate, after all - but it's a big movie in every sense of the word. Worth seeing? Definitely.

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