The Krays (1990)


Director: Peter Medak
Gary Kemp, Martin Kemp, Billie Whitelaw, Susan Fleetwood, Kate Hardie  UK. 1h 59m. 

Peter Medak’s  sentimental, raw biography of twin London gangsters, documents their rise from the back streets of London to the headlines of the international press. The film charismatically details their devotion to their mother and the unique bond that drove them to passion and violence.

As with a lot of biographical movies, it is difficult to encapsulate a lifetime into a short cinematic piece. So the movie only touches on several key events in the lives of the Kray twins. While some of the grimy and often violent crimes that are still evident in the London boroughs, are recorded in the movie. It still misses some of the more difficult and hard hitting facts about the crime duo, but while it strives to keep the timeline and facts in check it does manage to paint the pair in a very different light without many of the mental health problems that we’re more aware of.

Maybe a lot was missed out purposely, as the overall theme of the movie that comes across suggesting, quite rightly; that the brothers were seen as celebrities during their time. The film oozes sophisticated scenes of the twins dressing up  in tailored suits and being spoken of highly among the local people almost as robin hood type characters and getting their photograph taken with lots of other celebrities in their lavish clubs. i think this image was the main purpose of the film. Secondly they are portrayed as being extremely devoted to the elder female figures within their family primarily the mother and aunt rose (Susan Fleetwood) who gives the film one of it’s more powerful scenes and one liners, while breaking down she screeches about how women had to deal with more during the war, cutting the heads of babies to save mothers lives while hidden in the underground.

Aunt RoseOne day they’ll drain Victoria Park lake and you know what they’ll find? Babies, that’s what. Bullets and dead babies”..

While the screenplay itself is quite simplistic it is highlighted with casually placed well-directed scenes not always making the most of cinematography or soundtrack track, the character and energy from the film comes mostly from the sincere acting of the two brothers and ballsy cameos from Whitelaw as opposed to any background music camera mechanics.

The first half of the movie focuses in on the twins at children growing up during the London blitz, going to school, and a protective mother and a almost invisible father looking all adorable in their long school shorts in a world one step away from being cast in sepia tones. The second half of the movie lands them is grown men in the middle of a ready made empire. A large part of the building of a criminal HQ and dodgy businesses was completely missed and is possibly one of the more interesting aspects of their lives.

When People are afraid of you, you can do anything. Remember that.

The acting could very well be described as polished. There is definitely some panache from each brother. It’s not the kind of acting that will win anybody an Oscar, but it will definitely be remembered as one of the more stylized British performances. Which in turn is homage to the two original characters. The film is often pulled back from the violence by inserts of wisdom and powerful performances from Fleetwood and Whitelaw (RIP to both) as they attempt to interject the raw emotion and thoughts of a strong iron lady who is the backbone of her community.

Hungarian born director Peter Medak at the time was typically filming numbers of shorter television shows. Maybe he lost his sense of timing when given something of much more magnitude to direct the pace seems to slow and quicken and the ending is sudden. It’s a homage to the Krays, it neglects the nasty side of the controversy, instead it presents a history of the Krays with as much flare as Goodfellas (1990) achieved for Henry Hill.




Rating : 7/10

R: The End (2008), Essex Vendetta (2016), Rise of the Footsoldier 2 (2016), Essex Boys (2000)
L: London Cinema, British Crime and Gangsters, Crime Biographies, Biographies, Twins in Film.
5B: Billie Whitelaw, Susan Fleetwood, Gary Kemp, Martin Kemp


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