Twin roles a showcase for Hardy’s brilliance
ot far from Carnaby Street, where Mary Quant, Twiggy and Jean Shrimpton helped create Swinging London — assisted by the Beatles and the Rolling Stones and all the rest — East Enders Reggie and Ronnie Kray controlled some of the most popular London nightclubs, venues where the celebrities often gathered to party. The twin brothers were feared for their violence and ruthlessness, and it took a very long time before they were brought to justice.
Their story has been told before on screen, in the 1990 Peter Medak film The Krays, in which Martin Kemp played Reggie and his brother Gary Kemp played Ronnie. In that version of the story, the dominant female in the lives of the criminal siblings was their mother, played by Billie Whitelaw.
In the new version, Legend, written and directed by American Brian Helgeland, the focus has shifted to Frances, the East End teenager who becomes besotted with the superficially charming Reggie and marries him, only to live to regret it. Frances is played by Australian actress Emily Browning and she is excellent in the role; Helgeland even has her narrate the film (“It took a lot of love for me to hate him”), so that superficially the story is told from her point of view, giving Legend something in common with Sunset Boulevard.
As much as it is a retelling of the rise and fall of the Krays, Legend is a showcase for the considerable talents of Tom Hardy, who is one of the film’s executive producers.
Hardy plays the smooth, nattily dressed, persuasive Reggie and the moody, unbalanced, openly gay Ronnie who had, early in his career, been sent to a mental institution after he was convicted of grievous bodily harm, but who was released on the testimony of a doctor who had been bribed to give a favourable report.
Quite apart from the skilful technical achievement involved, it is utterly fascinating to watch Hardy differentiate between the two brothers in a narrative where Reggie often seems on the verge of going straight — becoming involved in legitimate nightspots — until dragged over into the dark side by the actions of his deranged twin. The criminal activities of the Krays are a constant thorn in the side of police officer Leonard “Nipper” Read (Christopher Eccleston), but the brothers also fall foul of a rival gang based south of the river.
Helgeland, who previously has shown a greater aptitude as a writer ( LA Confidential) than as a director ( Payback, A Knight’s Tale), brings an outsider’s vision to this violent story and the result is his best film to date. Assisted by his cinematographer, Dick Pope, and production designer, Tom Conroy, he re-creates London in the 1960s with considerable skill.
The film also explores one of the most intriguing aspects of the Krays’ story, the involvement of politicians.
Two gay parliamentarians, Conservative peer Lord Boothby and Labour MP Tom Driberg, became associated with the Krays to the point that prime minister Harold Wilson demanded action be taken against them. This was, after all, not long after the Profumo scandal rocked the British establishment.
The film also explores the links between the Krays and the American mafia.
There’s a bleakly amusing sequence in which a criminal called Bruno (Chazz Palminteri) arrives as an emissary from Meyer Lansky, the notorious Las Vegas crime figure, seeking an alliance. While he is convinced by Reggie’s smooth urbanity, Bruno is repelled by Ronnie’s instability and unpredictable temper.
This is a violent movie but it’s an utterly compelling one with an extraordinary central double performance. The Krays were an appalling pair, and their terrible story has been vividly and intelligently brought to the screen. Films from Malta are as rare as hen’s teeth, so Rebecca Cremona’s Simshar — which is getting limited screenings around the country — comes as a welcome surprise.
Based on a true story, the film deals with the ill-fated voyage of the small fishing boat that gives the films its title as well as the larger, more contentious, question of the flood of North African refugees.
The film was made in 2013, when this situation was yet to reach the dire proportions that it has today, but even so the film raises important questions about attitudes towards these boatpeople.
Early scenes vividly establish life in Malta’s seaport capital, Valletta, and the bureaucracy that makes life difficult for some of the country’s independent fishermen who are so bound by rules and regulations that their profit margins are dwindling alarmingly.
Although he doesn’t have the correct papers in place, old Karmenu (Jimi Busuttil) sets sail on a fishing trip with his son Simon (Lotfi Abdelli) and grandson Theo (Adrian Farrugia), plus a North African refugee, Moussa (Sekouba Doucoure), to help with the heavy lifting. On shore, Simon’s wife (Clare Agius) waits with her younger son, gradually realising that something has gone terribly wrong.
Meanwhile a Turkish ship laden with refugees has been stopped offshore and a medical team has boarded to assess the health of the refugees. John (Chrysander Agius) is left on board when a pregnant woman refuses the offer of a chopper flight to a hospital because she’s afraid to leave her brother.
The scenes at sea are confidently staged, and for a first feature by a new director, Simshar is a notable success. Its multi-layered and poignant stories unfold with a tender humanity, while questioning some of the assumptions of the authorities.
There’s a key scene in which a (presumably) Maltese fishing ship sees desperate survivors of a disaster clinging to a makeshift raft on the sea but refuses to help because “we’re not coastguards, we’re fishermen”.
I don’t know much about acting traditions on Malta, but all the players here are utterly convincing and the cinematography offers more than just a travelogue of a beautiful part of the world. Learning to Drive, an independent American film made by the Catalan director Isabel Coixet, is a showcase for two fine actors: Ben Kingsley and Patricia Clarkson. She plays Wendy, a New York literary critic whose life is turned upside down when her husband leaves her for another woman.
One of her many problems is that she never learned how to drive. Kingsley, who is half-Indian, plays Darwan, a Sikh taxi driver who gives driving lessons on the side.
The film explores the relationship between these two very different characters in ways that are pretty predictable; it’s a feel-good movie through and through, and a successful one given that it was runner-up in the audience award for best film at Toronto last year.
As a drama about an unusual relationship the film is perfectly decent and completely unremarkable, yet the characters played by Clarkson and Kingsley linger in the memory.
IS A VIOLENT MOVIE BUT IT’S AN UTTERLY COMPELLING ONE
Ben Kingsley and Patricia Clarkson in a scene from Learning to Drive
Tom Hardy, right, in a scene from Legend