Tom Pheby gets gangster.
After the universal acclaim heaped on Tom Hardy for his portrayal of London's most notorious gangsters, Reggie and Ronnie Kray, in Legend, it seemed likely that there may be more mileage left in the tank where the two infamous crimelords were concerned. So to appease the considerable public appetite and morbid fascination, we get The Rise of the Krays and its aptly named follow up The Fall of the Krays. Unlike Legend, this double whammy DVD release was achieved on a shoe string budget, which probably explains the involvement of football chairman and former porn mogul David Sullivan. It stars a host of unknowns such as Kevin Leslie (Reggie Kray), Simon Cotton (Ronnie Kray) and an eye catching performance from Phil Dunster as gangster 'gopher' Dickie.
Of course it covers familiar ground; the protection rackets, the mindless violence, the blackmail and extortion, without which it would be like a BLT without the bacon. Some of the acting is truly dire and some of the casting decisions completely baffling but where it tends to outshine its big money rival is in its historical content, it follows the rise and fall incredibly faithfully.
The conundrum for those concerned in a complex project such as this is what to include and what to exclude from this incredible, almost unbelievable chapter of the 1960s. Separating the facts from the myth is certainly an unenviable undertaking but director Zachary Adler makes a decent job of it, aided by screenwriters Ken and Sebastian Brown. There is considerable attention to detail in the scripts and attempts are made to undermine the Krays for their nefarious activities, but it's not enough.
Where it does fall apart in particular is in Cotton's portrayal of Ronnie. Yes, we know he was a criminally insane brut but this version is verging on an exaggerated cartoon. Where Hardy makes it interesting by playing the pair with flair, eccentricity and power, Cotton focuses merely on Ronnie's madness and rage, and it brims over an already full cup.
Hardy gave each of the Krays their own characteristics, identifiable by vocal interpretation and body language, and in Legend the complex nature of the relationship between the brothers feels immensely real and has depth, but Cotton and Leslie fail to project that to the audience, mainly because their chemistry is all wrong.
The two films are not without their good points though; they are well written, paced and directed. The thriving and changing social backdrop of the 60s is brilliantly recreated and has the genuine feel of the times, but the interaction between the two leads is unconvincing and it loses its way quite quickly.
If we have to have another 'Kray fest' in, let's say, another twenty or so years, it would be a treat to see it from the perspectives of Charlie Kray, the less infamous brother, or Nipper Reed, the twins nemesis. Read has not been suitably represented in either films, he's been depicted as a inept copper who fluffed his lines and missed golden
opportunities. He's been a gritty Cockney and a earthy Northerner but
neither has managed to capture the essence of the man himself and the tenacity he displayed in finally managing to convict the pair.
Comparing these two Kray films with Legend films is slightly unfair because of the financial disparity, but in terms if performance Hardy grabs all the praise. Yet, as a story 'The Rise / The Fall' stand up well, if you can ignore the ham-fisted, attention seeking impressions of a psychopath.
Splitting the story into two was a clever move both financially and artistically, and although it was never a consideration to the producers of Legend, it would have allowed Hardy to deliver the definitive performance and save us from future full of inadequate Kray movies, where the pair are still seen as icons and heroes.
Script Writer, Poet, Blogger and junk television specialist. Half
English, half Irish and half Alsatian, Tom is well known for insisting
on being called Demetri for reasons best known to himself. A former film
abuser and telly addict who shamefully skulks around his home town
of Canterbury after dark dressed as Julie Andrews. Follow Tom on Twitter