Films like Performance (1968), The Long Good Friday (1980) owe a lot to the most famous of Britain’s home-grown criminals as does Legend (2015) which is based on the book The Profession of Violence: The Rise and Fall of the Kray Twins by John Pearson adapted for the big screen by its director American Brian Helgeland, best known as script writer on such films as L.A. Confidential (1997), Mystic River (2003), Green Zone (2010) and Robin Hood (2010).
This latest outing, as you may of guessed, is about Ronnie and Reggie Kray identical twin brothers that run organised crime in the East End of London during the 1950’s and 60’s. Unlike Peter Medak’s The Krays (1990) it does not take as its central theme Violent the twins mother but Reggie’s wife Frances’s who also narrates the film. The twins who called themselves The Firm were responsible for armed robberies, arson and protection rackets amongst other criminal activities. The movie not only demonstrates the violence involved with the Kray Empire but also how they became owners of West End nightclubs, which attracted celebrities and entertainers also allowing them to mix with prominent politicians alleged to include both Tom Driberg and Lord Boothby. Because of their connections they became celebrities themselves even being photographed by fashion photographer David Bailey.
The rather slick and polished overview of London’s criminal world in the 1960’s is a triumph for British actor Tom Hardy who convincingly plays both of the brothers and whose performance stays in your mind long after the film is over. Emily Browning is Frances Kray, the wife of Reggie; Christopher Eccleston is Detective Superintendent ‘Nipper’ Reed the nemesis of the Kray twins. The Kray’s business manager is played by David Threwis and Peaky Blinders star Paul Anderson is convincing as Albert Donoghue Reggie’s minder as is Tara Fitzgerald who dressed in black to show her displeasure at her daughter marrying Reggie Kray.
Beneath the razzle dazzle and glamour of the Kray’s life style is the violence that betrayed people’s admiration of these charismatic criminals. This brutal era and the mid sixties detail is enthusiastically drawn out in this movie both by cinematographer Dick Pope who worked with Mike Leigh on many of his films and designer Tom Conroy. From the Bethnal Green terraces to the bright lights of London’s West End we are treated to the working class boys who ‘made good’ - and bad. To a certain extent Helgeland’s feature film is a British gangster movie that stands out head and shoulders above other movies in this genre because of the acting talent of its lead star.