There have been other films, dramas and documentaries over the years depicting the life and times of the Kray twins. We seem fascinated by the intimidating, illegal, gangland rule of fear which east-end London endured with people like this post-war and heading through to the 1960’s.
The story of Reggie and Ronnie Kray seems to lead that pack and here it is depicted in a 2015 drama starring Tom Hardy (Peaky Blinders, Child 44, Dunkirk) in the leading roles. Yes, he plays both of the twins, so camera and visual trickery was used for the scenes of course where they’re both present. Most challenging when they are fighting each other on a couple of occasions! Hardy plays the roles brilliantly, depicting the often level-headed and soft, though frustrated and ruthless when needed Reggie with sympathy - then switching rapidly to show the frightening irrational, psychotic and unpredictable sides of Ronnie, with great ease. Hardy is of course an accomplished actor and must have seen this as a real challenge professionally, which he certainly pulled off.
Emily Browning plays the supporting role of Frances very convincingly. A wayward, torn soul trapped into a world she didn’t plan to be a part of, high ideals at the outset of doing something more interesting with her life than to fall into the expected role of London wife and mother. It all falls apart for her as she slowly gets sucked into the world of gangsters and her feet under the table at the Kray household. Apart from being very pretty (much more so than Frances Shea was, incidentally), I think Browning has developed as an actor over time from the childhood days of Lemony Snicket through the eroticism of Sleeping Beauty, the musical talent of God Help the Girl and the likes of this demanding role. She depicts the emotion and angst of suffering the wretched world of a victim here beautifully, through to the sad end.
Much of the film is about the twins though and the notorious gangland activity in which they were involved. But it’s not just about that - it’s also a social commentary of London in the 1960’s and how families behaved towards each other. It depicts the early lives of the twins growing up during WWII diving for cover in the London Tube Train tunnels to avoid bombing, playing in the street and the early bonding of the family. The loyalty and family-first values of Londoners, closely knit and bonded is a clearly expressed theme throughout.
There is a fair bit of violence and exposure to the nasty side of the way in which people can behave towards each other when their territory, family, friendships, businesses or pride is threatened. The film is also about the irrationality of Ronnie and his nasty manipulation of events when he feels threatened by Reggie’s attention being drawn away from him and towards the love and devotion of Frances.
I’m sure that there are liberties taken with the story to make it more interesting for film, though hopefully not at the expense of too many known facts. The truth is that often little is known about what was said to whom about what behind closed doors, records are not made and interviews with those living are subject to their memories - and any agenda they may have had. But laying that aside, it makes for a good thriller, depiction of the times and observation of the capabilities of human behaviour, with the results of mental health problems thrown into the mix.
There are other great performances around the two leads. Another dastardly performance by David Thewlis (Fargo, The Theory of Everything, Harry Potter), a gripping one by Christopher Eccleston (Fortitude, Dr Who, Shallow Grave), and an emotional one by Tara Fitzgerald (Brassed Off, Game of Thrones, Sirens). The sets are finely shot in and around the action, offering a wonderfully atmospheric feeling of being in 1960’s London for the viewer. The direction by writer/director Brian Helgeland (L.A. Confidential, Man on Fire, The Taking of Pelham 123) is tight, (as it would have to be keeping the brothers being played by the same actor smooth and believable) and production spot on.
The two fine leads carry this film though and make it hugely enjoyable and worth sticking with. I’m really not much of a fan of gangster films, but I was glued to this throughout. I recently watched The Krays, another film trying to tell the story starring the Kemp brothers, but, even though it had qualities and a charm of its own, it’s not a patch on this. If you’re going to see one, make this it!
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