(MA15+) Starring: Tom Hardy, Emily Browning
Ronald and Reginald Kray have been the subject of books, films and the subject matter of London’s East End folklore since the 1950s and 1960s. They were considered some of the most feared gangsters of that era. Even though many people from around the world may not have heard of these brothers, Legend brings forward their story to the world stage and shows their influence on London over two decades.
Tom Hardy (Mad Max Fury Road) plays both Kray brothers and the story is narrated by Reggie’s wife, Frances (Emily Browning). Legend spans from the time she meets her husband in their East End neighbourhood, through the highs and lows of their marriage and his criminal activity. The young bride’s haunting narrative delivers the bittersweet experience of being married to a gangster. She slowly comes to realise that the most challenging part of life with Reggie would be enduring his twin brother.
Director Brian Helgeland’s (screenwriter of Mystic River and LA Confidential) film is a personal journey through the brothers’ rise and fall within the sordid world of organised crime. Helgeland is able to show how family loyalty can have its positives and negatives in regard to business dealings. Reggie being the sensible and measured leader of their gang, sees the value of the psychosis of his brother, which assists the muscle and fear necessary to grow their operation. Challenges come when their personal lives get mixed in with the family business. Reggie’s marriage to Frances, Ronnie’s homosexual relationships and their brotherly allegiance come to expose the twins’ blind spots within their criminal dealings.
The Krays’ tale is one of violence, protection rackets, murder, and familial ties that prove blood runs deeper than water — even if it leads to their demise.
Tom Hardy continues to prove his acting credibility by taking on both Kray brothers. He convincingly plays each character and develops them with an exclusivity to their own personalities and preferences. He also captures the unique bond between them of fierce sibling loyalty. His portrayal of Reggie is balanced between charisma and a calculated criminal mind. He provides the ferocious and unpredictable nature of Ronnie.
The only difficulty with Hardy taking on these notorious twins, if you know their real-life story, is he is too attractive to portray them accurately. This is not enough to derail Legend, but for purists it might be a distraction. What also could be a distraction is Hardy playing both roles. But Helgeland utilises the right cinematic technology to make this dual role work on-screen. Emily Browning is able to hold her own against the tour de force that is Tom Hardy. She has matured in her career and characterises the innocence of Frances, while also referencing the necessary darkness within her life.
A credit to all involved, the performances are excellent, the script is well thought out and the story captivates. The only downside to watching Legend is that the nature of the Krays’ criminal dealings puts a major limitation upon the appeal of this biopic. As would be expected with any gangster film, the level of violence and lack of any moral centre leads to a well-told story that screams for some light to be allowed into this dark world… but such illumination never arrives. Legend pulls no punches in displaying the gangster life so, be warned: This film is a rendering of the tragic, dark world of the criminal underground and may not appeal to every viewers’ palette.
Sibling rivalry and loyalty have been the fodder for a multitude of books, films and are even central to many of the key stories in the Bible. From Joseph and his brothers to Jacob and Esau or the “Sons of Thunder” (the apostles James and John), brotherly love shows how deep tensions can run across family lines.
The term, ‘Am I my brother’s keeper?’ comes from one of the original and most notorious sibling rivalries, Cain and Abel. The first set of brothers in history became one of the best-known stories of jealousy and murder. Depending upon your experience, loving your siblings or others can seem an impossibility. Yet, the Bible also tells us we are to love our brothers — as well as our enemies! Through God’s strength, such a tough task of love can be achieved in this lifetime.
Leaving the cinema…
A brilliantly portrayed story of the dark side of human life. But even though it is well done, Legend certainly is not everyone’s cup of tea.
What are some of the bigger questions to consider from this film?
- What does the Bible say about brotherly love? (Genesis 4, Roman 12:10, Hebrews 13:1)
- Can we ever find justice? (Proverbs 21:15, Romans 12:19)
- What does this life have to offer? (Ecclesiastes, The gospel of John)