Two Tom Hardy’s don’t make for a Legend-ary film

On paper, this film seems like a great idea. The Kray twins were London’s most notorious gangsters – two men who both enjoyed being gangsters and what it entailed. Having Tom Hardy, one of cinema’s men of the moment, felt like a logical next step. After Armie Hammer successfully played the Winklevoss twins in The Social Network, having Hardy playing the central dual role didn’t seem outlandish. In practice, his performances do work. It’s the rest of the film that really doesn’t. With a wealth of material out there on the Krays, with so much of the truth being better than fiction, it’s frustrating how much Legend misses the mark.  Although the film is marked as charting ‘the true story of the rise and fall’ it does no such thing. The ‘true’ bit is questionable after some post-screening research, and ‘the rise and fall’ is false-advertising. The film opens when the Krays are comfortably on the rise (so much so they are under constant police surveillance) and ends just before the start of the fall. The decision to pick these two periods as plot-points seems questionable, as a narrative they are not the most engaging, nor do they provide the audience with enough information to get them engaged. Audience members will be left with countless unanswered questions, no information about how the pair actually achieved this ‘rise’ nor the events or the aftermath of the ‘fall’. It seems ridiculous for a film with a 130 minute running time  to have such serious gaps, even more so when it is filled with such needless fluff that make the film feel boring and far longer than the actual running time.

Our entry character into the world of the Krays is Frances Shea (Emily Browning). Frances meets Reggie Kray (Tom Hardy) as her brother (Colin Morgan) works for Reggie as a driver. It’s heavy-handedly alluded that Frances has a history of mental illness, she’s ‘fragile’ and just returned home after ‘being away’. Little more information or film time is given to this, which is unfortunate as it could have increased the impact of France’s characterisation. It’s also doubly unfortunate as it could have created a nice parallel with the character plotting of Ronnie Kray (also, Tom Hardy). In the film’s single funniest sequence we witness Reggie visiting his twin, whose prison sentence resulted in being institutionalised and being declared certifiably insane. During this sequence we are informed that whenever Ronnie was uncertain or confused by what people said he would respond ‘interesting’. It’s a quirky touch that could have been utilised for greater effect. Their reunion is intercut with a conversation with a Kray heavy negotiating with a physiatrist for an all-clear for Ronnie. Ronnie is released from the mental hospital, leaving Reggie to start balancing loyalties to the two most important people in his life – Frances and his brother. These relationships are the main focus of the film, not the brother underworld careers. If you were looking for a ‘proper gangster’ (a phrase of Ronnie’s) movie, you’ve come to the wrong movie.

Frances and Reggie date for an unspecified amount of time, then become engaged for an unspecified amount of time and then marry for an unspecified amount of time. Not having a timeline for this period is frustrating, and furthers the sense of the film drifting from one sequence to another. This is a fatal flaw for two reasons. Firstly, the film appears to have strived to place character development over story arc yet there is no stand-out antagonist, rarely a clear motivation for character’s actions, and often no clear link between sequential scenes.. The film tries to restrict itself to how these events impacted the relationship between Frances and Reggie. This leads to the film’s second major fault, which makes Legend such a muddled and convoluted mess. If Frances was our entry point, and the focus is on her viewpoint on events, why are we shown events that she was not at and would never have known about? Reggie and Ronnie attend events and confrontations that would have been concealed from France’s knowledge as, in their eyes, she would not have needed to know what was going on. This flawed decision is empathised with the use of voiceover narration, with Frances narrating the majority of events. The use of voiceover narration in Legend is not used to great effect, it’s cloying and sentimental. The fact she narrates over events that would have been unknown to her confuses whether her viewpoint is truly restricted, as it would have been during the time of the actual events, or has been promoted to omniscient which then undercuts the themes and tone of the film.

Watching Legend makes for an exasperating cinematic experience. The cast do a truly fantastic job with the material they have been provided with – Hardy is suitably magnetic as Reggie though a bit of a caricature as Ronnie, Browning gives her best performance to date and Taron Egerton steals every scene as Teddy Smith – but that material is banal and structurally incoherent. Disappointing.

London Road

The citizens of London Road will talk-sing their way to a brighter tomorrow!

london rd

In 2006, in different locations across Ipswich and over a period of roughly three months, the bodies of five prostitutes were found. The murderer, Steven Wright, was identified and arrested. A resident of (you guessed it!) London Road, the discovery of his crimes led to the street being given a reputation and haunted his unknowing neighbours. The film follows the residents through; the period of uncertainty of a serial killer being on the loose: the identification of the murderer: his arrest, trial and convictions for all five crimes; and the community trying to rebuild itself by hosting events culminating in a flower show in their front gardens. The fact that these are all real events that occurred is echoed by the construction of the film – the residents of London Road were interviewed by Alecky Blythe over a period of three years. Her questions focused on the wellbeing of the community were well-received by the interviews and resulted in the unburdening of some very honest and heartfelt opinions. These recording were then transferred to a theatre production which was produced in a verbatim style – with the spoken text being reproduced by the performers exactly as it was recorded. Everything from tone, meter, pitch, inflection and fillers were retained to create a ‘real’ reflection of what happened. The twist is that the dialogue is set to music to expedite the emotion – intensifying what is being spoken/sung.

This film is, as far as I can gather, a true stage-to-screen adaptation. The killer and his victims remain unseen, the focus staying with the neighbourhood as it tried to regenerate in the aftermath. In fact the only change appears to have been with regards casting. Instead of retaining a main ensemble cast of unknown, the film has made the use of stunt casting. We have Anita Dobson (of Golden-era Eastenders fame), Olivia Colman (she of everywhere-on-the-telly fame) and Tom Hardy. Yes, you did read that right, the Tom Hardy (of the-awesomeness-that-is-Mad-Max fame and loads more.) This is one of two aspects of the film I found rather difficult. I will be very honest at this point and admit I was rather looking forward to Tom Hardy’s appearance (A- cracking actor B- also rather attractive.) When he finally appeared (I guesstimate 15 minutes in) he was good, for the three minutes of running time he featured. He was clearly chosen (and given top billing!) to draw in a crowd (I shamefully admit to this…) and does a fantastic job of creating well-rounded creepy character. In fact considering the short screen-time this is very impressive indeed. But one cannot help but ask, was he really needed? Why not use an equally talented but lesser known actor? When the USP for this film is the authentic-ness, the realism of what is being shown and heard, why then hire a big star like Hardy? Why pull the viewer out of such an immersive play but using such a familiar face? Why spend so much effort creating a suspension of disbelief, only to return them to relate with his (very skilled but very recognisable) presence?

This leads on somewhat to my second difficulty with regards this film. 24 hours on, I am still not sure if I liked this film. Also, I am not sure how necessary it really is. Whilst is it does celebrate the restoration of a community – in a time of utter emotional devastation light is brought in to conquer the darkness – is there not a degree of profiteering of the deaths of five young women?  This is surely a matter of personal opinion, although I am yet to decide mine (slightly flawed review then perhaps!?!) Those in the former camp will revel in the engaging sincerity, dazzle in the niche display and chuckle along with the dark humour. Others, however, will feel unsettled by the plot, bored by the pacing and find the emotion cloying.

For the most part, I’m afraid, I am in most agreement with the second of the two opinions. Though I desperately tried to will myself to like it, to an almost feverish extent, I just didn’t ‘get it’. Whilst the intent is admirable, the execution is jarring. Considering the film is so claustrophobic, the overly optimistic ending undercuts the power of what has gone on before. An interesting but flawed experiment.