Saturday, 20 March 2010
This bio-pic of the 1960 east London gangsters starts and ends poorly with some old bag wittering on about a swan but the bits in between are OK, in a British film sense.
The legendary gangsters, who were always good to their mutha and never hurt their own, are played in decent fashion buy Spandau Ballet duo Gary and Martin Kemp. We open with the lads being born and having a tough upbringing in war time London. The boys’ Dad is a lazy draft dodger constantly on the run from the police in the shape of Blakey off ‘On the Buses’ and all they have is provided by Ma and the lady neighbours all of whom have high opinions of themselves.
The Kray household run by Billie Whitelaw who plays the matriarch who shapes the boys’ lives. After seeing how hard things can be they start up a life of crime after taking advice from Michael Elphick in military prison - never a good plan.
They start small with a run down club but pretty soon they are the biggest crew in town. Not all is rosy however as bi-sexual Ronnie is going a bit mental and soppy Reggie is getting married to an annoying woman who pouts a lot. They also face incursions into their territory by rival gangs and from within their own organisation in the shape of Tom Bell’s Jack ’The Hat’ McVitie.
When Reggie’s wife kills herself the pair decide to settle some scores committing two murders that spell the end of their empire. The film closes with their Mother’s funeral and the pair reunited for one last scowl and a few more lines about that god darn swan and its magic eggs.
I’d never seen this 1990 film before and only remembered the general slagging it got on release over the casting of the pretty boy leads. Despite some early reservations over a pile of clichés and pretentious chat I was won over by the sarf London setting and some pretty gruesome scenes.
The film hangs on the relationship of the twins and although it’s not fully explained why one is nice and the other mental they play well off each other and there is often an air of real evil about. Gary has the harder job as the gay mental one and to be honest he struggles a bit, doing a low menacing voice a bit too often to be convincing. He has a couple of awkward gay scenes and his annoyance by his brother’s marriage is conveyed with a lot of staring.
Martin is a bit better as Reggie although his character arc leaves his acting talent behind when the wife tops herself - presumably because she’d watched her own performance that far. The director obviously knew he had a tough task making the film with two pop stars in the lead roles so he wisely filled out the cast with every actor you’ve ever seen a kitchen sink drama. Whitelaw has most of the big speeches but doesn’t have the same menace she had in ‘The Omen’ ; more of a tiresome old bag a bit too fond of her own voice. Tom Bell also shows up but seems to be drunk most of the time while flailing about wildly.
It was also fun to see Stewpot of ‘Grange Hill’ in a bit part and Steven Berkoff too, doing his usual shouty bit before getting shot in the mole on his forehead - handy that!
The film seemed to try hard to balance the glamour and the violence and to be honest it all seemed a bit of a wretched lifestyle. I thought it was a mistake ending things as soon as the murders took place and I could have done with some of the trial and lost half an hour of women talking about having it hard in the war.
The film is a decent enough effort but it does lack any sense of being something substantial. Basically they have it tough, they slash a few people and they get stuck in the nick for 30 years. A morality tale? A story about conditioning and maternal controls?, of the bond between brothers? Nah it’s a guy getting a sword in the face that you’ll remember.
THE Tag Line : Chant Number 6 out of 10 60%