Starring: Tom Hardy, Emily Browning, David Thewlis, Christopher Eccleston, Paul Bettany, Paul Anderson, Taron Egerton, Colin Morgan, Tara Fitzgerald, Chazz Palminteri
Directed by: Brian Helgeland
Oh, what genius thought this one up? Actor legendary for playing legendary hardmen plays not one but two legendary hardmen in a film called Legend. Yup, the lovely Tom Hardy plays both Reggie Kray (that's Martin Kemp to thee and me – slick, handsome smooth-talker, little bit psychotic) and Ron Kray (aka Gary Kemp – glasses, gay, less handsome, totally psychotic). The Krays, as we're informed in a somewhat pedestrian and unnecessary voiceover, rule Lahndahn Tahn on account of getting Paul Bettany sent dahn and having more famous actors in their pockets than anyone else, including David Thewlis as their no-nonsense, savvy business manager Leslie Payne and John Sessions as the venal Lord Boothby, of tabloid scandal 'fame'.
The voiceover comes courtesy of Reggie's ill-fated wife Frances (Emily Browning), whose story is meant to lie at the heart of the film, yet whose plight is often sidelined (as indeed is she, by her busy gangster husband) in favour of fist-flying violent high jinx. Ill-fated doesn't equal a spoiler by the way: it's plain from the start that involvement with either half of Brand Kray can only lead to double trouble, albeit impeccably styled and set to a booming '60s soundtrack that aims for Scorsese irony but often ends up being as obvious a pointer as the voiceover
Okay, so Legend is no Goodfellas. But the slightly straggly narrative is borne along so triumphantly on the broad, sloping, pimp-rolling shoulders of Mr Hardy that I'm prepared to forgive it pretty much anything.
Because of course Hardy is splendid, almost up there with Jeremy Irons in Dead Ringers in his skilful delineation of the twins (aided and abetted by some strange prosthetic teeth and jaw padding for Ron). At times you almost forget you're actually watching the same actor – except in the (intentionally?) hilarious fight scene, which takes us right back to that 1970s split screen version of A Tale of Two Cities (no?).
Interestingly, however, while it's Ron Kray Hardy really wanted to play, his mumbling, bug-eyed, wildly unpredictable, cardigan-wearing psychopath is relatively recognisable to those familiar with the Hardy oeuvre; it's Reggie who's the revelation: a gorgeous, spoilt, debonair matinee idol, dazzling poor Frances with glamour and charisma, yet ultimately even more screwed up and dangerous than his flamboyantly crazy brother.
But Hardy's is not the only great performance: the cast as a whole is solid as a punch to the gut with a knuckleduster, with particular kudos going to Kingsman's Taron Egerton, who gives a delightfully confident, attention-grabbing turn as Ron's sidekick and lover Teddy.
Does the film glamourise the violence of the East End's most infamous gangsters? Of course it does: the Krays were glamorous men. They owned strings of nightclubs, hung out with movie stars and were photographed by David Bailey – it doesn't really get much more glamorous than that. But the whole film is such a Technicolor time capsule it's hard to see it as an incitement to adopt a gangster lifestyle.
All in all, like a night out in one of the Krays' casinos, Legend is slick, stylish and a little bit vapid (statements like 'London's like the world... it just is...' are hardly what you'd call profound). But, all surface and not a lot of substance, it's nevertheless, not to be missed.