Legend follows Reggie and Ronnie Kray, identical twin gangsters who ruthlessly ruled the East End of London in the 1960s. Though those expecting something similar to Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and Rock’n’Rolla will be left disappointed as Legend focuses less on gang wars and the criminal underground scene, and much more on relationships.
Despite being marketed in the genre of a full-blown gangster film, writer and director Brian Helgeland focuses more on the often struggling relationship between Frances and Reggie Kray. This is highlighted by the choice of Frances as the narrator, the only member of their group who is a reluctant witness to the Krays’ gangster lifestyle.
In the early scenes we see the blossoming of young Frances and Reggie’s relationship which is beautiful in its restrained sexuality and often funny playfulness, but after marriage its dissipation is swift as Reggie spends time in jail and is hardened by the criminality of his gangster life. A constant thorn in the side of their marriage is psychopathic Ronnie who persistently drags his brother back into the gangster world Frances so desperately wants him to leave.
Despite not being the expected full-blown gangster film, it still has its moments of gritty violence. We see brutal stabbings, knees being smashed with hammers and gang-on-gang bar fights as well as sudden and violent executions. In these sporadic gangster moments the film becomes quite dark amongst the glamour and glitter of London’s East End.
Actor Tom Hardy brilliantly embodies the contrasting Kray brothers, giving each of them their own unique personality. Reggie Kray is suave and gentlemanly (in a brash Cockney way), while maintaining his power as the brains behind their gangster empire. Ronnie, the psychopathic homosexual, provides much of the deadpan humour with his slow wit and violent tendencies, combined with his occasional softer side when it comes to family (using his connections to get his mum the finest exotic tea).
Like a cross between Twiggy and Cilla Black, Emily Browning beautifully portrays the soft and fragile Frances Shea, with her large doe-eyes and wrap around 60’s hairstyle, while still convincingly capturing the grit and power of a woman who stands up to one of the most feared and powerful criminals in London. David Thewlis also deserves a mention as the Kray brothers’ front man and accountant, Leslie Payne, who finds Ronnie’s ideas and actions incredibly stupid and frustrating, leading to many humorous exchanges between the two.
The soundtrack is a great feature of the film, with Welsh beauty Duffy even taking the stage at Reggie’s club to perform some classy nightclub songs. It also includes some great 60’s tracks from Rod Stewart, Marvin Gaye, Burt Bacharach and The Righteous Brothers that will have the audience bopping in their seats.
Although not quite what the audience might be expecting, Legend is an interesting mix of gangster genre, biopic and romance that will keep viewers involved the whole way through.
Rating out of 10: 7
Reviewed by Georgina Smerd