Within British cinema, Tom Hardy has become something of an archetype. Roles in Bronson, Layer Cake and Guy Ritchie’s Rock’N’Rolla have earned him the reputation of being – both on and off screen – a complex, lovable lout, a reprievable rogue, full of cockney charm and vigour. So, when a biopic of the country’s most notorious criminals crops up, it’s almost unabashedly obvious that Hardy be cast as the convicts.
Brian Helgeland‘s Legend, story of bodacious bullies and East-End juggernauts, The Kray brothers, features Hardy comprising both leading parts. The film offers some interesting – if contrived – performances from a great British cast, including Emily Browning, David Thewlis, and up-and-comer Colin Morgan; however, it’s all eyes on the main man for this one – and not just because there’s two of him. Where the script falls short and the plot drags, Hardy carries the piece with a committed – and often comical – caricature of home-grown rebellion.
Factually, the flick is neither original, nor the raw, gritty and invasive portrait of the troubled twins that fans and fanatics undeniably crave. However, Helgeland does break new ground in other arenas. Ensuring that this male-centric narrative incorporates just as much of Frances Shea’s story as the hard-men at hand is a bold and refreshing move; within the context, both the normalisation of Ronnie’s sexuality and integrous, poignant exploration of his mental illness offers strikingly progressive discourse. Exploitation would have been easy here, but clearly, that was not the agenda. Such is the unique selling point behind Helgeland‘s study – beneath the bloodshed and bawdiness beats an unashamedly human heart.
What the film does offer, in abundance, is entertainment. In equal measures of light and shade, stark violence precipitates slapstick sequences and juvenile jibes, culminating with a genuinely hysterical fight scene where the main gag comes from watching Hardy lock horns with his own shadow. Helgeland‘s paradoxical choice of tone undeniably reflects the inappropriate fondness felt when we come to remember London’s formidable thugs. As Frances recounts, “It took a lot of love for me to hate [Reggie] the way I did” – which perhaps surmises our nation’s nostalgic relationship with two of the most sensationalised scoundrels in British history, affectively epitomised within this sardonically sentimentalised portrayal.