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FILM PREVIEW: A warning to the squeamish about Legend movie of the Krays

PUBLISHED: 19:09 06 September 2015 | UPDATED: 15:44 07 September 2015

Tom Hardy... is Ronnie and Reggie Kray

Tom Hardy... is Ronnie and Reggie Kray

Working Title Films

Don’t see Legend if you don’t want to be drawn into a realistic portrayal of the Krays, the ruthless top dogs of east London’s violent underworld of the 1960s.

True-crime movie Legend with Emily Browning as Frances Kray and Tom Hardy as Reggie KrayTrue-crime movie Legend with Emily Browning as Frances Kray and Tom Hardy as Reggie Kray

The slightly offbeat start with the Kray twins playing cat-and-mouse with ‘Nipper’ Reed, the cop who eventually felt their collar and got them banged up for murder for the rest of their days, soon descends into what the $30 million blockbuster is about.

Many of the ‘in yer face’ scenes which were shot—pardon the pun—on the streets around east London suddenly explode with a bullet, knife, axe, knuckle-duster or fist with no warning. You don’t know when another burst of their gratuitous violence is coming, putting you in the victim’s blood-soaked shoes.

The close camera work, for example, shows Jack ‘The Hat’ McVittie’s ‘loser’ face as Reggie Kray suddenly goes berserk in the house of ‘Blonde Carole’ in in Stoke Newington, stabbing him repeatedly till he is dead. You don’t quite expect that.

But the appeal for Kray folklore fans is the story that centres around the relationship of Reggie and his beautiful young wife Frances, played by Emily Browning, set among the brutality of gangland violence.

Legend... scene from back streets of Bethnal GreenLegend... scene from back streets of Bethnal Green

This isn’t a ‘cradle to grave’ story of the Krays, like the last movie 25 years ago, but picking its theme and scripted around the relationship of Frances, her gangster boyfriend-turned-husband Reggie and his psychotic twin Ronnie.

You would not want to meet Ron on a dark night — that much you learn from director Brian Helgeland’s masterful scenes.

I wondered if Tom Hardy in the role of both twins would be a problem knowing which one he was playing at any one time.

But hey, no difficulty picking out Ron and Reg, the film-makers somehow thickening the mad one’s lips and face features, although his half-rimmed glasses did help!

Legend... Reggie and Frances wedding scene at St James's 'Redchurch', Bethnal Green RoadLegend... Reggie and Frances wedding scene at St James's 'Redchurch', Bethnal Green Road

Its strong narrative portrays love, hate and violence, with realistic scenes actually filmed where the original action was half-a-century ago... like the confrontation between rivals meeting at Pellicci’s café in Bethnal Green Road, or Frances quitting her doomed marriage that was shot outside their flat at Cedar Court in Clapton.

There is, however, nothing about Frances’ mental crack-up after walking out on Reggie and the long stay in Hackney Hospital, desperately seeking an ‘exit’ from the life of crime she had walked into.

Instead, Legend switches straight to the bedroom scene in her brother Frankie Shea’s council flat at Wimbourne Court in Shoreditch, where she pops one pill after another to end it all.

The marriage to Reg obviously wasn’t working out!

Tom Hardy as Reggie and Emily Browning as Frances... filming  last summer outside Cedra Court in ClaptonTom Hardy as Reggie and Emily Browning as Frances... filming last summer outside Cedra Court in Clapton

East Enders and the serious connoisseur of Kray folklore may wonder about the odd detail now and then.

The Blind Beggar, for example, was shown tucked away in a cobbled, narrow back street. But the boozer in reality, where George Cornell was shot dead by psychotic Ron in 1967 in front of 30 witnesses, is slap bang on the main Whitechapel Road.

But such ‘i’-dotting and ‘t’-crossing isn’t enough to spoil the strong narrative of love, hate and violence of the Swinging Sixties.

Perhaps more could have been made of the build-up to Nipper Reed’s dawn raid on the flat at Braithwaite House in Clerkenwell, where the twins were the night they got the Order of the Cuffs, instead of portraying him as the luckless copper that he wasn’t. Leonard Reed was a hero cop to the public in 1969, as much as the Krays had been the anti-heroes.

Legend... Tom Hardy as Ronnie and Reggie KrayLegend... Tom Hardy as Ronnie and Reggie Kray

I would have liked something more dramatic of the Old Bailey trial in 1969 that ended the Krays reign of terror.

Or perhaps more of their mum Violet who was central to their lives, playing host to their evil empire in their small terraced house in Bethnal Green’s Vallance Road, but only gets a minor role. She was the strong matriarchal figure, but a woman in denial, never wanting to accept the twins were into murder, intimidation, racketeering and extortion. Crooks? Not her boys.

But what the heck. It’s a good movie if you like East End’s folklore, social history or just plain screen violence.

It’s gory, yes, but is on the button for those who want to experience what the East End underworld was really like in the gratuitous violence of that era and culture.

Legend: Tom Hardy as Ron and Reg Kray, Emily Browning as Frances Kray, released Wednesday, September 9.

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