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Acclaimed actor takes on notorious gangster twins in controversial film

Violent: Tom Hardy as the Kray twins
Violent: Tom Hardy as the Kray twins

With their sharp suits and macho swagger, Reginald and Ronnie Kray looked every bit the incarnation of Swinging Sixties London.

But behind their good looks and personas as nightclub bosses lay the fearsome ambition of two gangsters determined to have it all. 
 
Armed robberies, protection rackets, threats and, if necessary, murder – the Krays would do whatever was required to build their crooked empire with a group of associates known as ‘The Firm’.
 
l Now Hollywood is giving the Krays the big-screen treatment, with British actor Tom Hardy playing both brothers in an innovative move. Hardy said it was one of the trickiest roles he’s ever done. 
 
“In all honesty, this is the hardest thing that I’ve tried to do in my career, trying to pull off two characters in the same film. It was a huge risk,” he said. 
 
He’s pleased that the movie has been winning acclaim in advance of its September release – particularly given the gamble he took. 
 
“We had 10 weeks and we didn’t have the facilities to create a CGI world,” he said. 
 
“Everything is as it is. We didn’t know what we were f***ing doing. Well I didn’t – and I tried to pretend I did.” 
 
The movie, called Legend, charts the complex relationship and ultimate downfall of Reggie and Ronnie, who was regarded as the more volatile of the two. 
 
Openly bisexual, he was certified insane following his trial and served out his life sentence in a hospital. He died of a heart attack in 1995.
 
Reggie’s prisoner status was reduced over the years and he became a born again Christian. He was allowed home on compassionate grounds in 2000 before succumbing to bladder cancer. The brothers were buried together. 
 
Unsurprisingly, the film is already generating controversy. The family of Frances Shea – Reggie’s ex-wife who committed suicide after suffering from mental health issues – have expressed their fury after seeing a preview of the film, in which Frances is played by Emily Browning.
 
Her niece, also Frances, said: “They did not catch the essence of any of the people I remember. It’s not alright to come to the East End and dip your toe in for a month or two and then think you know the whole East End story.” 
 
The movie – written and directed by Brian Helgeland – charts the rapid rise of the notorious London gangsters. 
 
Hot British actor Tom Hardy had the brawn to sign up to appear as both Ronnie and Reggie,and bring two incredibly different personalities to the big screen.
 
 
Groundbreaking cinematic trickery was used to bring both of Hardy’s incarnations to the screen, and he often appears as both men in the same scenes. 
 
The story is based on the book, The Profession of Violence: The Rise and Fall of the Kray Twins, penned by John Pearson. The movie also stars rising Irish actor Colin Morgan as Frankie Shea, a driver for Reggie and the older brother of his wife Frances. 
 
It charts how Ronnie and Reggie quickly became the greatest perpetrators of organised crime in one of the biggest cities in the world. 
 
The movie has a different focus from other takes on the Kray’s lives, in that it centres on the story of Reggie and his efforts to control the more crazed tendencies of his younger twin. 
 
Their stomping ground in London still remains, to some extent, under the influence of them and their associates, as Helgeland discovered when he travelled  to the U.K. capital to research the movie. 
 
While spending time with well-known Krays associate Freddie Foreman, Helgeland said: “I had drinks with him in his local haunt. When we finished he got up to go and they feted him at the bar. I said to him: ‘What about the bill?’ He replied: ‘We don’t pay.’”
 
It’s difficult to emphasise how much Ronald and Reginald Kray ruled the roost in the criminal underworld of East London, dizzy from a post-War boom and other social
changes in the 1950s and ’60s. 
 
On the face of it, the brothers were nightclub owners, but the real money came from the fearsome reputation of the brothers and their associates – known as ‘The Firm’.
 
They caused chaos on the streets of East London through their involvement in numerous armed robberies, protection rackets, threats and at least two murders –those of Jack ‘the Hat’ McVitie and George Cornell. 
 
Cornell, a top associate of a rival gang, was shot dead by Ronnie at the Blind Beggar pub in the Whitechapel district in 1966. McVitie was a minor member of the Kray gang who had failed to complete a contract to take out another man. He was lured to a flat on the pretence there was a party, where the brothers and their associates lay in wait. 
 
Reggie pointed a handgun at McVitie but it failed to discharge. Ronnie then grabbed their victim by the neck while Reggie got a knife to complete the gruesome kill. His body was never recovered. 
 
As nightclub owners in the fashionable West End of the City, they mingled with Hollywood royalty and top politicians. Beautiful people who partied at their clubs included the glamorous actress Diana Dors, iconic star Judy Garland and even Frank Sinatra. 
 
There were even rumours of a security firm run by the Krays to protect some of the world’s biggest stars. 
 
Bizarrely, they even featured in TV interviews and were photographed by the acclaimed snapper David Bailey. In fact, the two were never shy about posing for the cameras and developed a sort of celebrity status in the city of London. 
 
They remain big figures in popular culture, having been lampooned in a Monty Python sketch and referenced in songs by Blur, Morrissey and Ray Davies. 
 
However, by the late 1960s their crime spree was catching up on them. On May 8, 1968, the Krays and 15 other members of The Firm were arrested. By this point, they had so many enemies that police had little difficulty gathering witness statements and building a case. 
 
They were both sentenced to life imprisonment, with a non-parole period of 30 years, for the Cornell and McVitie murders. Fourteen gang members were also convicted, while their brother Charlie got a 10-year sentence. 
 
The movie characterises Reggie as the less violent of the brothers, though many of the loved ones of his victims will no doubt dispute this. 
 
As he once put it: “I seem to have walked a double path most of my life. Perhaps an extra step in one of those directions might have seen me celebrated rather than notorious.”