31 Days of Cinema, Day Five: “The Krays”

A brief review tonight, so I can practice with succinctness (more developed thoughts may come later): the title The Krays seems to refer to the twin brothers, Ronald and Reginald, who ruled London’s underworld in the 1950s and ‘60s. But the film is really about the Kray family unit as a whole, led as it is by the maternal Violet Kray (Billie Whitelaw), who we first see—as the film hurtles through their childhood—mentoring, protecting and doting on her twin sons (played as adults by musician brothers Gary and Martin Kemp) with the tenacity of a bear and the indignant self-control of a politician. Whether the boys will grow up to be psychopaths—which they will, even if we don’t know it yet—is beside the point; Violet is their mother, and she serves that role feistily. The film succeeds the most in its gendered perception of the British crime world. Most of the older women in the Kray circle view men as overgrown children, doomed to an irrational adulthood, while they commit to the truly laborious tasks—childbirth, for instance—and care for their men as a matter of duty. Susan Fleetwood, as the boys’ Aunt Rose, has perhaps the film’s most powerful moment: a slow zoom on her as she recites her experience performing abortions during Hitler’s bombardment of Britain during WWII, memories of which are still raw. Outside the domestic sphere, the Kray twins confirm the women’s opinions, buying pool halls, running rackets, bringing in the American mob, and flexing their muscles with swords. Whitelaw, a muse of Samuel Beckett who knew not to resort to histrionics, dominates the film’s first half insomuch that she is sorely missed when the mob stories take over in the second, though she does return at the end, brooding over the innocence her kids haven’t so much lost as they have happily tossed it into the trash. The film has dated in some aspects, mainly because of new information regarding the circumstances behind the death of Ronald’s wife Frances (played here with a bit too much hysteria by Kate Hardie), and allegations that the twins were rapists in addition to murderers. Will the upcoming Legend, with Tom Hardy playing both twins, confront these updates? Perhaps. In the meantime, this is still a film worth watching, with great performances (from Whitelaw, both Kemps, Fleetwood, and Steven Berkoff as the proud, doomed Cornell), which leaves little to doubt Ronald Kray’s troubling, universal assertion: “Glamour is fear.”

Grade: A-

(This film is available on Netflix Instant.)

Tomorrow: We’re back in the Eastern Bloc, this time in Romania to strike a Child’s Pose.

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31 Days of Cinema, Day Five: “The Krays”

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