Sunday 13 September 2015

Legend by Brian Helgeland

Legend loses a few points for borrowing its title from a 1985 film by William Hjortsberg which featured Tim Curry sprouting an impressive set of antlers. This Legend is rather different. It's the true(ish) story of the Kray twins, a pair of thugs who rose to the top of London's gangland cesspool in the Swinging Sixties. 

Ronnie and Reggie Kray were previously the subject of a 1990 movie by Philip Ridley which wasn't much cop (as we say here in London). But the new film is a keeper.

Legend is written and directed by Brian Helgeland, a terrific screenwriter whose masterpiece to date was probably LA Confidential. Helgeland's magnificent script for that, co-written with Curtis Hanson, won an Oscar. Helgeland has gone on to direct movies, with varied results. Payback was a troubled but entertaining dark thriller, A Knight's Tale was superb and The Sin Eater was a dud. Legend is certainly his best work since A Knight's Tale.

I would have wanted to see Legend just on the strength of Helgeland's involvement, but what really motivated me to scamper to the cinema was the presence of Tom Hardy. 

Hardy is one of the most interesting new movie stars (recently featured in Mad Max, and you should really check out his performance in Locke). Here he plays both the Kray twins.

Hardy's performance in Legend is so brilliant that for most of the film I forgot I was watching the same actor in two different parts. Other members of the cast are also uniformly outstanding  — memorable British acting talent in virtually ever role. (Ronnie Kray's coterie of catamites are particularly splendid: Charley Palmer Rothwell and Taron Egerton.)

Brian Helgeland does a great job, too — especially for an America director. He has clearly done his homework. The cultural British detail, right down to the lemon sherbets sweets, is faultless and the period (1960s) is also convincingly evoked.

Helgeland's script is based on a celebrated book about the Krays, The Profession of Violence by John Pearson. Helgeland has cannily compressed and organised the material, structuring it around a love triangle consisting of Ronnie and Reggie and Frances Shay (played by the fetching Emily Browning, an Australian actress who previously made an impression in Pompeii and Sucker Punch). 

Reggie love Frances. Frances loves Reggie. But Reggie also loves his twin brother Ronnie, and Ronnie loves Reggie — and is dangerously insane. This is basically the engine that drives the movie. If Reggie and Frances's romance seems too implausibly dreamy early on (Reggie, intimidated by her gorgon mother, shinnies up a drainpipe to deliver a bouquet of flowers to his beloved's bedroom window), by the end it is more than balanced by the nightmarish nature of events.

This is the best movie about the Krays and their milieu since Donald Cammell and Nic Roeg's Performance, which presented a fictionalised version of the gangster's world. Legend has fine photography by Dick Pope and production design by Tom Conroy. Carter Burwell provides a memorable music score studded with songs of the 1960s, some sung in the film by Duffy.


(Image credits: .All the posters are from Imp Awards. I think the one with the silhouette of the gun is particularly cool and graphically striking... and Ronnie did indeed use a Luger, to kill Jack "The Hat" McVitie — the murder that led to his downfall. Also, check out this amusing article in the ever reliable Slate about the Legend poster.)


  1. I'm catching this on Tuesday. Really looking forward to it!

  2. Did you enjoy it? I'm thinking of going to see it again.

    1. Yeah really enjoyed it. Even went and bought the soundtrack album; Burwell's score kept playing over and over in my head

  3. I loved the music -- both Burwell's score and all the period tracks. Does the album contain both?

  4. It does indeed. Surprisingly Burwell's score is kept to just three tracks; Legend, The Race Is Run and one other which I think came after Frances' suicide. The rest of this 2 disc album is the period tracks

    1. There will probably be a later release purely of the Carter Burwell score; that is usually the pattern of these things.