US Release Date: 11/11/15
After grabbing up the writer / director’s mantle for Legend, which charts the rise and fall of East London’s deadly Kray brothers, Brian Helgeland was especially interested in Frances Shea – the wife of Reggie Kray.
For the filmmaker, there was no shortage of information about the gangster twins, once described as the most dangerous men in Britain, and their gang of associates, known as “The Firm.” However, when it came to Frances, who committed suicide in 1967, Helgeland had to dig deeper.
He asked retired gangster Freddie Foreman and actress Barbara Windsor, who frequented nightclubs owned by the Krays, about Frances, and was merely told that she was a “quite and pretty girl.”
Later, Chris Lambrianou, a former Kray associate, invited Helgeland on a tour of the Krays’ old East London neighbourhood, and said:
“Frances was the reason we all went to prison.”
“It was as if my whole Kray world tipped over,” Helgeland recalls. “Chris said when she died, Reggie gave up looking after things.”
With Lambrianou’s words still echoing inside his head, Helgeland had found his way into the story, which is based on John Pearson’s book The Profession of Violence. Recounting events as they unfold, Frances (Emily Browning) introduces Reggie and Ronnie Kray, both played by Tom Hardy, and their world to the audience.
Right from the start, Helgeland wanted Hardy to play Reggie, the leader of the Firm, but Hardy was eyeing the role of Ronnie – a homosexual who was eventually diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia.
“I was intrigued at the thought of him playing both parts but I knew, at the least, I needed him for Reggie. As fate would have it, at dinner all Tom talked about was Ron. By dessert, he said, ‘I’ll give you Reggie, if you give me Ron.’ “
Dinner sealed the deal – Helgeland had his Kray brothers. On set, Hardy started the day as Reggie, and often finished as Ronnie.
“Loosely, he played Reggie as a movie star, an old-fashioned Steve McQueen-type” explains executive producer Tim Bevan. “Ronnie is a great character part; he was the guy who was on pills and wasn’t so mentally stable. And he found very definitive looks and characters for both of them.”
To many people, the Krays – born in 1933 – were charismatic night club owners who hosted many celebrities such as the aforementioned Barbara Windsor and photographer David Bailey – and had plenty of opinions of about the then political and social scene. But behind, the glamour, glitz, partying and drinking, the brothers thrived deep within a brutal and dark world of murder, torture, extortion, robbery and intimidation.
However, things came to a sharp head in 1966 when Ronnie gunned down George Cornell, a rival gangster, in a Whitechapel pub. Events continued to spiral downward when Frances, the following year, took her own life, while Reggie, a few months later, stabbed an associate to death during a party in front of dozens of people.
The brothers – alongside a number of their associates – were finally arrested in 1968 following an extensive police investigation by Leonard “Nipper” Read. They were both sentenced to life imprisonment. Ronnie – certified insane – ended up ion Broadmoor Hospital and died there in 1995. Reggie, meanwhile, was released from prison in 2000 on compassionate grounds – after being diagnosed with terminal cancer – and died just six weeks later.
“I see them as the poor kids from the poor neighbourhood who took the only avenue open to them for success, which is crime, which is a much more American gangster way of looking at it,” Helgeland notes. “I was always trying to be ground level with them. Never looking down and never looking up. You have to be on the side of your protagonists.”
Studio: Universal Pictures
Writer / Director: Brian Helgeland
Stars: Tom Hardy, Paul Bettany, David Thewlis, Emily Browning. Duffy, Christopher Eccleston, Chazz Paliminteri, Paul Anderson, Colin Morgan, Mel Raido, Sam Spruell, Tara Fitzgerald, Taron Egerton, Kevin McNally and John Sessions
Producers: Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner, Chris Clark, Quentin Curtis and Brian Oliver
Executive Producers: Kate Solomon, Amelia Granger, Liza Chasin, Olivier Courson, Ron Halper, Tom Hardy, Peter Mallouk, Ray Mallouk, Christopher Woodrow and Michael Bassick
Image Info: Copyrigh 2015t Universal Pictures. All Rights Reserved
Quote Source: Press Notes