It’s been a quarter of a century since a film was made about the Kray twins, and now two have come along at once! The main event of course is Legend, showcasing Tom Hardy in a dual role that has earned rave reviews from critics. The gangster pair were admired and abhorred in equal measure. They represented a strand of culture that mixed community values with intimidation and violence.
Some are looking forward to further exposure for Ronnie and Reggie. Others object to the perceived glamourizing of men who were hunted by the police and responsible for bloody carnage across London. Whatever your view, you have to agree they had a permanent effect on the fabric of Britain and this has been reflected onscreen in some surprising ways.
Don your best suit, pack your shooter and prepare for a rain-soaked car journey into the neon heart of the capital for some peeper-peeling glimpses of a team who epitomized fear in the Sixties…
MONTY PYTHON’S FLYING CIRCUS (1970)
The first high profile take on the legacy was a sketch in the BBC’s surreal talent launchpad. Oxford men Terry Jones and Michael Palin played Doug and Dinsdale Piranha, vicious relations whose life story bore a passing but bizarre similarity to the Krays’ saga.
Of course their blowing up of Luton airport and Dinsdale hallucinating a massive hedgehog called Spiny Norman strayed a bit far from the source material. But certain characters were clearly inspired by reality, such as Harry “Snapper” Organs, derived from the dogged figure of copper Leonard “Nipper” Read.
The documentary-style presentation further enhanced a sense of sheer lunacy. Though as this list will go on to demonstrate, this wasn’t the last word in the way of far out tributes to the notorious brothers…
THE KRAYS (1990)
Writer Philip Ridley and director Peter Medak created a memorable depiction of the two Rs at a time when they were in danger of dropping off the national radar. Made at the start of the Nineties and starring a pop star combo from the Eighties, it proved to be an unlikely but evocative production.
Gary and Martin Kemp played the Krays. They didn’t look alike and were best-known for belting out hits with Spandau Ballet. Yet Medak’s gamble paid off and the film launched their acting careers. They were backed by an eclectic cast that included Billie Whitelaw as their Mum Violet, Tom Bell as the unfortunate Jack “The Hat” McVitie and Steven Berkoff as rival George Cornell.
Ridley’s screenplay had an eerie dimension, opening via Violet’s description of a dream, and the stark violence left viewers under no illusion as to the nature of the twins’ hold on London.
ITV’s historically-themed crime drama had an eye-opening trick up its sleeve when it returned for its second series. The first run was concerned with a resurrection of the murders of Jack The Ripper. Where for writers Ben Court and Caroline Ip to go next…?
How about a secret pair of Kray twins continuing where their father left off? Top marks for curveball-throwing! Five years before Tom Hardy‘s ambitious double-header, Craig Parkinson portrayed new characters Jimmy and Johnny.
It turned out to be a hoax, but this still managed to be a truly unusual attempt to mine the brothers’ story for the twenty-first century. As for this incarnation of the fearsome twosome, they wound up getting murdered in custody, so we’re unlikely to see a sequel!
THE RISE OF THE KRAYS (2015)
Pipping Tom Hardy to the post is this straight-to-DVD thriller from director Zackary Adler. Kevin Leslie and Simon Cotton are Reggie and Ronnie. Former EastEnders star Nicola Stapleton plays Violet.
It’s the first time the pair have been front and centre in a movie since The Krays (though Neil Scholtz and Gareth Simons played them in Malcolm Needs‘ 2004 drama Charlie). A dubious honour, as it’s been criticized for a lack of budget and various period continuity errors.
Still, with the buzz around its megabucks successor, I’m sure releasing it to supermarket shelves everywhere was a canny move on the part of the producers, even if I expect to see it for £3 in the bargain bin within weeks!
The genuine article is seen as this bad boy (or boys), that resurrects the brothers via Universal Pictures. Appropriate perhaps, seeing as how the real life twins mixed with movie stars. In addition to Tom Hardy undertaking the mammoth task of conjuring both men, there’s a raft of famous faces and up and comers backing him up.
Emily Browning is Frances Shea, the tragic figure who married Reggie, who forms the film’s focus. Christopher Eccleston is police bloodhound “Nipper” Read, forever on the Krays’ tail. Taron Egerton may be flying into cinemas soon as maniac skier Eddie “The Eagle” Edwards, but here he’s Edward “Mad Teddy” Smith, with whom it’s said Ronnie was intimately involved. Chazz Palminteri hasn’t been seen on the silver screen for ages and I’m glad to say he appears as Philly mobster Angelo Bruno.
LA Confidential‘s Brian Helgeland writes and directs, based on the definitive tome The Profession Of Violence by John Pearson. Reaction to the release so far has been largely positive – we at THN loved it, whereas reviewers like Mark Kermode pointed out a lack of overall substance. The publicity team also made the headlines when, in a move their subject mights approve of, a two star rating from The Guardian got positioned between the two Hardy’s heads, cheekily suggesting a star either side!
Either way, Legend is seen as an important contribution to the cinematic world of the Krays. With a Brit lead who couldn’t be hotter if he wore nylon near a volcano, this may be the last word on a dark but compelling time in Britain’s capital city during one of its definitive decades.
This feature appeared on The Hollywood News.