Legend (2015) | Netflix

January 3rd, 2022
Author: Meredith Taylor

Dir: Brian Helgeland | Cast: Tom Hardy, Emily Browning, Taron Egerton, Paul Bettany, Aneurin Barnard, Colin Morgan, David Thewlis | Biography | Crime | Thriller | US

As Reggie Kray, Tom Hardy essays the classic bad boy rise and fall narrative of genre familiarity. As Ronnie Kray, Hardy bears an uncanny resemblance to Patrick Marber. Unfortunately the filmmakers didn’t have the foresight to get Marber to do a rewrite of the screenplay.

Real life is messy, though arguably more dramatic. Working Title, who excel in chocolate box exports of the Union Jack, truncate and clean up the timeline of the brothers, and Reggie’s relationship with Frances, to a neat conventional structure, taking liberties with documented facts for the sake of a reductive and restorative three act structure.

Narrated from beyond the grave by Frances, as a sort of cockney sparrow cousin of Bridget Jones, all with a garish sense of retro-knowingness and provincial cool and a script full of some real exclamatory corkers “It was time for the Krays to enter gangster legend”. Its soundtrack, a wholly predictable mix of Green Onions, In the Mood and Hermans Hermits, literally illustrating, for those opening weekend punters who can’t be bothered, the wedding scene with Chapel of Love, the relationship turning sour with Helen Sharpiros Lonely Last Night, and her suicide with Make The World Go Away (a new version by Duffy, who may be the only authentic thing in the film).

No subtlety is allowed here. Ronnie’s schizophrenia is too complex for the flat white mainstream to handle, so instead they ramp up his madness way past 11, an absurdist idiot savant pitched somewhere between Tommy Cooper and Derek & Clive, complete with liberal and comedic use of the c-word. Spanking a Y-fronted young teen with a carpet beater, his sexuality is also far too abstruse a subject for its audience – better to grab some laughs with carry on up the camping instead. “Barbara Windsor was in here the other night”, Reggie tells Frances, as he seduces her with the nightlife. And at a Hackney orgy, John Sessions, as Lord Boothboy the perverted peer, enquires of a young lad “Do you like it down the hatch?”

Chazz Palminteri, a proper American actor who has played proper American gangsters with Robert DeNiro and Woody Allen, is brought in to please the studio and as an attempt to give weight to two brief cameo scenes of wretched expositional dialogue, apparently as Sicilian Mafioso Angelo Bruno, who comes out with clunkers such “London is going to be the Las Vegas of Europe”, then warning Reggie that Ronnie’s a loose cannon and “we need you to do something about Ron”, leading to Hardy’s very EastEnd reply “I can’t do that – he’s my bruvva”. Dum, dum, dum…

The Krays (1990) an earlier film with the Spandau brothers Kemp, a Buñuelian masterpiece by comparison, dealt largely with their mother Violet, played by Bille Whitelaw, and her unconditional love of her little monsters. Violet gets little screen time here, save for a scene where she berates Frances for making a bad cup of tea. Instead, Tara Fitzgerald is lumped with the thankless mother in law role. Elsewhere, other facts are inexplicably sexed up into bad movie scenes – Jack the Hat McVitie is shown having a doorstep scuffle with the accountant (David Thewlis) in a botched attempt to kill him – in reality his wife answered and said that he wasn’t in, so McVitie just pocketed the money and went home. Further licences are taken with scenes that are so dramatically convenient its laughable to believe they happened like that.

LEGEND, beyond the gimmick of Hardy’s doubletake, and though he does have some tender moments as Reggie, is nonetheless a simplistic 4th form Jekyll and Hyde sketch, with the soap opera plotline of a man, an alpha male, trying and failing to be saved to the straight and narrow by the love of a good little dolly bird, who he ultimately destroys, and who in turn inevitably destroys him. Apparently no CGI was utilised, instead using stand-ins and old fashioned angles for Hardy’s dual role, though one would have thought the 30 million budget would have afforded the blurring out of double glazing in Stoke Newington’s Cedar Court. @Robert Chilcott


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