Twin roles a show­case for Hardy’s bril­liance

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Film Reviews -

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.


Ben Kings­ley and Pa­tri­cia Clark­son in a scene from Learn­ing to Drive

Tom Hardy, right, in a scene from Leg­end

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