I saw this British crime biography in the cinema 20 years ago, on its release. I'd not seen it since, until getting it on DVD. It was striking then how perfectly cast the Kemp brothers were, as the violent twins. Core members of the 1980's pop group Spandau Ballet, it was an eye-opener that they had another string to their bow and in contrast to their fresh pop image. The film's aged well. Martin Kemp (Reggie Kray) kept up his acting career with popular soap operas (Eastenders) though I'm not sure what Gary (Ronnie Kray) has done since. They both have a slimy sort of adhesion as blood brothers and as the gangsters they both compel - and appal. Billie Whitelaw's performance as their strong, iron-lady of a mother, Violet, who held the family together through the blitz and rationing, was always held in high esteem. The Kray men of that era come across as weak, ducking active war service and work, which embittered Violet, her mother and her sisters. Thus, she had such high hopes for her twin boys. Bearing comparison to Margaret Wycherly's 'Ma' in the 1949 James Cagney crime thriller, 'White Heat' the bond becomes above all else. The apron strings are bullet proof, it would seem. Having somewhat grown up myself in the interim between viewings, I saw more into Kate Hardie's character who played Reggie's wife, Frances. Cast under a long shadow, below the 'Firm', Reggie's brother and certainly far below Violet, poor Frances, who annoyed me twenty years ago with her frightened whimpering excels at going from pretty girl-next-door, to trophy wife and then to tragic doormat. Ronnie Kray's homosexuality, understandably back in the early-mid 1960's (and illegal) was cause of much of the ridicule and angst they endured from their enemies. Even back in 1990, it seemed daringly fresh to have this as part of the storyline, with scenes to match. The film's direction and look cannot fail to be compared these days to Martin Scorsese, or, how he would have done it. This looks British; that grey-brown that these days would be digitally sourced. The acres of dull patterned wallpaper in front living rooms. The big Jaguar cars. The sun never shines in the East London street scenes, those streets seemingly familiar to Brits everywhere. The dialogue at times seems naff and obvious, other times spot-on. Violence, when it comes is near-graphic, but maybe not up there with the barely watchable scenes of say, Scorsese's Goodfellas. I'd like to have seen more action - adding to its 115 minutes with more of the 'everyday' crime and racketeering and how they held down their much feared reputation. We do get a couple of brilliantly played nasty guys - Stephen Berkoff and Tom Bell are as despicable as any - and who have vengeance played upon them by the twins. We get no tip-offs and thus, no raids and no police. Some chase scenes might have been nice! As a drama that reads more like a psychological profile than a straight crime thriller, then it's rarely been bettered, on either side of the Atlantic. Had it been made in the mould of the latter, then it might be better known and better remembered. I still like it, as it is, as much as I did twenty years ago.
Biography / Crime / Drama
Biography / Crime / Drama
This fact-based movie follows the life of the twin crime-lords in London's '60s underworld.
January 28, 2021