Controversial figures are often a lavish way to dress up a biopic, but there’s a real knack to getting them right. Going all out and delving into the nasty details of real-life gangsters and criminals is one approach, and the other would be to address the highs of the characters, respectfully telling their story whilst simultaneously registering their negative traits and showing their downfall. Legend does the latter, yet the professional gloss that coats the story has a tendency to brush over the darker elements of the Kray twins’ story.
Opening with the suave and slick Reggie Kray casually strolling down an East end London street, tailed constantly by Leonard “Nipper” Read, the film tells the story of Reggie getting his paranoid schizophrenic brother Ronnie out of his hosting mental asylum, and, as brothers in arms, ruling the criminal underworld of the East end.
Tom Hardy, in a dual role as both Kray twins, has been given the best possible showcase for his talent, and he gleefully laps it up. As Reggie, he’s pristine and elegant, playing out mannerisms as slick as his slicked-back hair. As Ronnie, he dons a spectacular set of false teeth and gets angry, in every sense of the word, masked under a thick cockney accent. It’s an absolute feast for the eyes and ears.
The technicality surrounding the filming of Hardy as both twins is also very impressive. A scene standing out in particular is a brief physical spat in a Kray-owned club, when Hardy fights himself for a good ten minutes. Whilst it’s obvious body doubles were used with a CGI face on one, it’s professionally done.
Frances Shea (Emily Browning), Reggie’s wife in the 60s, narrates the film, and admirably holds her own next to the might of Hardy. The days of the misogynistic and crass Sucker Punch are long behind her, and she adds an interesting personal account of life with the Krays. Other supporting British players also stand out well – Christopher Eccleston, playing Read, is always welcome on any screen, even if his role feels a little underwritten, and it’s good to see Merlin star Colin Morgan given a sizable role to introduce himself into the British film scene.
Predominantly, the film is focused on getting the surfaces of the Krays’ story bang on, rather than delving into the nastier depths of their crimes. The performances are universally great, London looks beautiful and the suits look pristine, but there seems an absence of underlying menace that should have been present. The Krays never come across as men to be terrified of; rather as prestigious, if unstable, club owners with violent temperaments. There are incidents when the darkest of the twins is brought out, and a splash of nastiness is shown, but when it’s interspersed with cartoonish prestige, it feels out of place. There is certainly a nastier side to this story than what we’re given in the film, the likes of which may only be explored in a documentary.
This being said, the surfaces we’re presented with are beautifully presented, and the script has moments of sharp wit and exposition. If the film falls short of being a thorough and detailed gangster biopic, it more than succeeds in giving Tom Hardy a showcase for his remarkable physical and emotive talent.