The Rise of the Krays, 2015.
Directed by Zackary Adler.
Starring Simon Cotton, Kevin Leslie, Phil Dunster, Nicola Stapleton, Danny Midwinter, Anita Dobson, Alan Mathis and James Weber Brown.
London, 1961: Ronnie and Reggie Kray begin a reign of terror that would endure and define Londons East End for years to come. From protection rackets to members clubs, from brutal street brawls, arson via blackmail extending all the way up to the Cabinet Office, the Krays rained red on anyone who crossed them.
The real story of infamous London gangsters Ronnie and Reggie Kray will never fully be told in a film, mainly because the exploits of the twins have now passed into folklore and, as is the nature of most true crime stories, the truth has mainly been buried with most of the victims. 1990’s The Krays touched on most of the known stories surrounding the twins but the film played too heavily on the twins’ relationship with their mother Violet, and the stunt casting of Spandau Ballet’s Martin and Gary Kemp gave the film a glamourised pop culture edge that betrayed the grittiness and brutality of the events that really took place. The Rise of the Krays plays things slightly differently, some of it for the better and some of it for the worse, but for entertainment value it scores a bit higher.
A plot run down is a bit unnecessary as the story of the Krays is well-known and the film doesn’t really have a plot or a story, instead choosing to follow the twins – Ronnie (Simon Cotton) in particular – as their rise through the gangland of London is shown in violent and grisly detail. Reggie (Kevin Leslie) is pretty much a secondary character as the film chooses to concentrate on Ronnie’s schizophrenia and the resulting bouts of unpredictable violence, although Reggie does provide a narration and is essentially acting as the audience’s eyes, watching as Ronnie’s behaviour gets ever more wild as he thinks about the possibilities of going legit and getting on with his life.
It is unfortunate that the upcoming Legend, starring Tom Hardy as both Ronnie and Reggie, will overshadow The Rise of the Krays because of its higher profile star and the novelty of one actor playing both parts, because what really goes against The Rise of the Krays is the fact that the actors playing the twins don’t look like each other and neither of them look like the real life twins, making it a little difficult to believe that you are watching Ronnie and Reggie Kray. But to their credit they play the roles convincingly enough, especially Simon Cotton as Ronnie, who may be a little thinner and more athletic looking than the real Ronnie but he applies a great deal of menace to his performance, giving him the essence of fear that Ronnie commanded. Ironically Phil Dunster, who plays henchman Dickie, looks uncannily like a young Reg Kray and the scenes with him interacting with Kevin Leslie actually carry a bit more visual weight than when Cotton and Leslie are on-screen together.
However, that small gripe aside, The Rise of the Krays does a good job of putting you in 1950s/1960s Britain with set designs that look and feel authentic, and although the film touches on a lot – but not all – of the known stories about the twins it doesn’t really dwell on anything for too long or in a glamourous way; Reg’s relationship with his future wife Frances Shea is touched upon in one or two small scenes and Ronnie’s homosexuality is only referred to in one scene regarding the Lord Boothby scandal but the details are left out, which gives the film more of a chance to concentrate on the characters being portrayed rather than the sensationalist headlines. Naturally, some things are embellished for cinematic effect so this isn’t the no-holds-barred biopic that some may be hoping for – and chances are that movie will never be made – but otherwise The Rise of the Krays is probably the most credible dramatisation of the Kray twins’ story we have had. Whether it remains that way, what with Legend being released in a few weeks time, we’ll just have to wait and see.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★