Brian Helgeland’s take on the Kray twins is a curate’s egg of a film; good in parts, but not good enough overall to deserve the welter of four star reviews it has received. Mind you, the Guardian’s two star appraisal was probably a bit harsh, though the publicity generated by the film’s publicists, who cunningly made it look like a four star on the poster surely deserves some kind of special award for chutzpah (see image). Unlike the previous attempt at filming this story (famously starring Gary and Martin Kemp) this version begins with the twins at the height of their powers in London’s East End and is narrated by Frances (Emily Browning) the troubled teenager who ends up as Reggie Kray’s long-suffering wife. Right from the beginning, this is a problem because Frances is actually a rather dull character and we really don’t learn enough about her to fully empathise with her plight, even when her misery turns to tragedy.
On the plus side, we get two Tom Hardys for the price of one. He is, of course, an extraordinary actor and he manages to portray the two very different brothers with swaggering conviction – but it has to be said that his characterisation of Ronnie Kray is largely comedic (brilliantly so in a scene where he attempts to dance to Strangers In The Night) but I felt distinctly uneasy to hear an audience laughing out loud at the utterances of an unabashed psychopath. Call me old fashioned, but that just felt wrong.
There’s a reasonable attempt here to recreate the 60s backdrop, replete with a vintage soundtrack, but the script fails to fully explore some important characters in the story. Christopher Eccleston as Nipper Read, the copper pledged with the difficult task of bringing the Krays to justice is (if you’ll forgive the pun) criminally underused and so is Tara Fitzgerald as Frances’s mother, a woman who famously wore black to her daughter’s wedding.
There are some extremely violent set pieces – a gang fight in a pub, where hammers are put to inappropriate use, and the famous murders of George Cornell and Jack ‘The Hat’ McVitie, but they are filmed with a kind of cartoonish zeal that somehow undermines their severity and inevitably, glamourises the ‘pay up or get duffed up’ world in which the Krays operated. Again, I felt conflicted by this. Surely villains should be scorned, not paraded as role models?
All-in-all then, this feels like a missed opportunity. After viewing the trailer, I’d expected to love this film, but I came away feeling that it should have (and easily could have) been so much better than it actually was.