The old saying goes that you wait an age for a bus and then two come along at once. The highly anticipated Legend from writer/director Brian Helgeland, in which Tom Hardy plays both the leading roles, is not the only 2015 film to cash in on the current Krays craze that appears to be sweeping the nation, twenty five years since the Kemp brothers took time out from Spandau Ballet to play the East End gangsters in Peter Medak’s film.
Director Zackary Adler, along with screenwriting duo Ken and Sebastian Brown, has put together a two-part biopic marking the rise and subsequent fall of the infamous bare-knuckle twins who ruled the criminal underworld of 1960’s London. Like the fortunes of Ronnie and Reggie, Adler’s films hits some peaks but also has a number of troughs which means it doesn’t quite pack the punch that it should.
Hackney, 1951: Ronnie – who, it is quickly established, is completely off his rocker – is ruthlessly beating a man with a length of chain. What for? It doesn’t really matter, he’s going to do it anyway. Simon Cotton plays the brawn of the operation with a suitably unhinged mania but sadly over-eggs the pudding on a number of occasions. The folklore surrounding the Kray brothers needs no introduction and Ron’s actions in the film, including extreme violence, arson and exhibitions of paranoia – may well be true but he becomes an entirely one dimensional caricature of a deranged nutter who, despite obvious mental fragility, elicits no sympathy whatsoever.
Brother Reggie (Kevin Leslie), who for the purposes of this review we will consider the brains, demonstrates a compassion, intelligence and restraint completely lacking in his brother but also has a penchant for caving people’s heads in when need be. The fact that neither he, nor Cotton, look anything like the real life Krays is not an issue but that the two actors do not resemble each other at all is problematic.
What I imagine was a fairly low budget production does end up looking quite cheap in places but the grittiness of the material lends itself to a finished edit that doesn’t have too much of a sheen to it. The subtle changes in set design, costume and music effectively mark the transition from mid 50’s to 1960’s as time passes and that is to the film’s credit.
Unfortunately for the infamous brothership what goes up must come down. The second half of this tale is due for release before the end of the year but Part I is now available to buy on DVD. Whether Adler’s film can stand up to the colossus that is Tom Hardy times two remains to be seen. I fear it may well be dwarfed by the glitz and glamour of Helgeland’s production. Cotton and Leslie give the material their all as the plucky indie contender but I know who I’d be more likely to bet on when the gloves came off.