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Phil Mellows is a freelance journalist living in Brighton




Directed by Brian Helgeland (2015)

Our perception of the Kray Twins will always be haunted by the Piranha Brothers. Only a year after Ronnie and Reggie were sent down for the last time, episode 14 of Monty Python’s Flying Circus  gave us the unshakeable myth: ‘Doug’ and ‘Dinsdale’ were “cruel, but fair”, “cheerful but violent”, they loved their mum.

The aptly titled Legend does not stray from that, though it does hint at a grain of truth. Early on we see Reggie walking the streets of Bethnal Green, followed by a police car, exchanging pleasantries with the locals, everyone’s mate.

Their unpleasant nemesis Superintendent Leonard ‘Nipper’ Read (Christopher Eccleston, or Python’s Harry ‘Snapper’ Organs) grimaces and sneers at the “cockneys”. Why do they love the villains and hate the coppers?

But that was how it was. The police were outsiders,deliberately posted to areas far from where they were brought up (‘Nipper’ was from Nottingham). They were the enemy, whether or not you were crooked yourself.

The crooks, on the other hand, were born and brought up round the corner, embedded in their community, perhaps protected by it, too (Reggie shakes off his tail by going into someone’s house and out the back), and therefore, somehow, in debt and obliged towards it.

For those of us growing up in East London in the 1960s, the Krays and their culture already seemed old-fashioned. And they were, we now know, the last of their kind.

What remains modern about them, though, was their manipulation of the media and their celebrity. Foolishly stalking them into their club, ‘Nipper’ is caught on camera standing at the bar between the twins, the big flash going off in his startled face and the picture in the papers next day. He’s taken off the case. This kind of thing didn’t start with smartphones and social media.

As ‘Snapper’ Organs says: “we in Q Division were keeping tabs on their every move by reading the colour supplements”.

Legend makes mistakes, though. In the film world the East End consists entirely of backstreets. So the Blind Beggar is removed from bustling Whitechapel High Street to a deserted terrace corner. It makes Ronnie’s shooting of George Cornell at the bar, right between the eyes, less audacious and mad than it actually was.

Another pub has a line of swan-neck pipes attached to the beer engines. In London? In the 1960s? I don’t think so.

And we called them ‘sherbert lemons’ not ‘lemon sherbets’ if you please, whatever it says on the jar.

These quibbles, however, are swept away by Tom Hardy’s double-starring role as Doug and Dinsdale… sorry, Ron and Reggie. My disbelief remained suspended for the full 131 minutes. If anything, I worried whether the twins ought to look a little more similar.

It’s a compelling performance, or rather two compelling performances, rivalled only by Emily Browning as the luminously pretty Frances Shea, Reggie’s girlfriend and narrator of the tale, and John Sessions in a splendidly salacious cameo of Lord Boothby.

Hardy succeeds remarkably in creating two quite distinct characters while also showing us Ronnie has a bit of Reggie’s charm in him, and Reggie a bit of Ronnie’s insanity.

Whether or not this is really like the Krays, or a reworking of the Piranhas, we’ll probably never know.

September 24, 2015

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