“It took a lot of love to hate him”
On the one hand, Legend has a pair of cracking performances from Tom Hardy, who plays both Ronnie and Reggie Kray, that makes it an instantly interesting proposition. On the other, it’s a rather shallow, even sanitised version of events that delves into zero psychological depth and smacks of a irresponsibly glamourised take on violence that plays up to the enduring roll-call of British crime flicks that just keep on coming.
Writer and director Brian Helgeland begins with the Krays already established as East End hoodlums and tracks their rise to power as they seek to control more and more and have all of the capital under their thumb. This is seen through the prism of Reggie’s relationship and eventual marriage to Frances Shea, the teenage sister of his driver, a sprightly turn from Emily Browning when she’s allowed to act but too often she’s forced to deliver syrupy voiceover.
“Reggie was a gangster prince”, “it took a lot of love to hate him”, their coupling is depicted as shop-bought sentiments right out of a cracker and so adds little of interest when all is said and done. And with a script otherwise full of embarrassing truisms as “a dirty deal for a clean life”, she recounts their gangland life as if reading a shopping list. And though Hardy is nominally good as Reggie, the lack of real insight into Ronnie (“I’m a giver… not a receiver… I am NOT a FAGGOT”) makes him close to a cypher.
As with any period piece, there’s quite a few amusingly drawn cameos: Tara Fitzgerald’s embittered mother and Colin Morgan’s hapless brother complete Frances’ family, Nicholas Farrell’s doctor is helpless in the face of threats as too is Nick Hendrix’s bar owner. But even when it’s names like David Thewlis and an uncredited Paul Bettany, there’s never any real chance for the supporting characters to break through with any real impact, you never feel the true horror of life under the Krays’ rule.
Ultimately the best thing about Legend is the ingenuity with which the Guardian’s 2 star rating was smuggled onto the poster.