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Legend PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sheila Seacroft   
23 09 2015

ImageDirected by Brian Helgeland

A double image of Tom Hardy as the Kray Twins greets you on the poster of Legend, and you'd be right in thinking that the word applies to his riveting performance as much, if not more, than the film's subject matter. It's well-made but fairly run of the mill gangster stuff, but watching Hardy bring his customary compelling subtlety to each brother is never dull, and gives a layer of depth to their antics and relationship that carries it far above its actual mundane level.

The story is pretty well-known, told this time from the point of view of Reggie's tragic wife Frances (Emily Browning), married at 21 and a suicide at 23. The brothers are indeed a legend, if a self-made one, the only British bad boys to match the most infamous of the USA's crop of real-life noir fodder. From their power base in Vallance Road in the heart of the East End they strode around their little kingdom of protection, keeping the streets safe for old ladies and kids and knuckle-dusting anyone who stepped in their way to power or money, including Charlie Richardson (Paul Bettany) and his gang. Intimidation, ruthlessness, and a certain cool style made them special, and Hardy brings a wonderfully towering presence to Reggie, the ‘normal' one, whose business nous and well-cut suits went down well with the celebrities who enjoyed the frisson of his clubs.

And it's the fascination of this mixing of crude and terrifying violence with their cultivation of some members of high society, including certain members of the royal family, and show business that gave the twins their special place in the nation's psyche. Ah, the good old 60s. John Sessions has a whale of time in a cameo of the slimy Lord Boothby, notoriously photographed alongside Ronnie for future blackmailing possibilities, and I'd like to have actually seen more of the recognisable big names of the time - Barbara Windsor, for example, ‘has just left the building', fortuitously.

But it's his Ronnie, the rum-looking psychopath, who is Hardy's real triumph. Lumpen-faced, a strange mixture of confused half-cock erudition (‘looks like Agamemnon's coming back to Iffarca') and bull-headness, he's Reggie's stalwart physical right-hand man and his Achilles heel, both necessary and disastrous to his empire. Mouth and face pushed out, bad teeth, heavier body shape, Hardy brings a kind of honesty into those empty dark eyes and the lumbering gait, so when he's not losing it and bashing your face in he's, kind of, pleasant. Though on occasion he teeters on the brink of Arthur Mullard-dom, Ronnie is the one you really believe in.

But if, as the director has said, this is meant ultimately to debunk the legend, it's a failure, and that's partly Hardy's fault too, for being so good, so that you only have eyes for him. Just as the 1990 Kray film, with the Kemp Twins making a good fist (so to speak) of playing the brothers, gets its real power from the charismatic performance of Billie Whitelaw as their doting mother Violet, horribly human and totally believable, so Hardy lifts the twins up yet another notch into a tawdry immortality. But I so enjoyed it I'm glad he did.

Seen at Tyneside Cinema Newcastle, 12 September 2015

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