“What’s this, a drama about two larger than life alpha males (both played by Thomas Hardy, no less) which is narrated by a female character, giving her a great power to change the way in which the viewer will consider the actions of the masculine leads by providing an outsider perspective, while also shedding light on the struggle of a young woman who is largely ignored by the powerful criminal blokey blokes who get to do all the fun stuff?” Yes, it is. How succinctly put. In handing over narration duties to Reggie Kray’s love interest, the fragile Frances Shea, played by Emily Browning, Brian Helgeland ensures that the focus of Legend’s plot does not drift away from the emotional heart which is so delicately pieced together in the first act, making certain that everybody witnesses the devastating effects of an outlandishly villainous lifestyle on the mental and physical health of the innocents at home. Yes, crime can be nasty,and prison is worse, and they take their toll on a relationship. Browning’s soft tones are quite reassuring, providing some historical context as well as some (utterly speculative) inside knowledge regarding the psychology behind the Kray Twins’ often volatile bond of brotherhood.
Where this voiceover goes, though, is disappointing. Spoiler-haters, ye be warned. But this is only historical, so it shouldn’t matter much to reveal that Frances Shea, Reggie Kray’s wife, dies of an overdose. Which occurs half an hour before the film’s end. There goes the narrator then, eh? I didn’t know for a fact that she was going to buy it, but mentions of her depressive tendencies and serious pill dependency foreshadowed such a possibility more than a few times. About seven times, if pressed. But lo! Our narrator is still here! As I suspected she might be, because this is the type of trashy, pretend-clever script to do the very thing which provoked me to scribble this page-and-a-bit of frustrated garbage; so what Helgeland did, that pretentious son-of-gun (and 1998 best adapted screenplay Oscar winner), was make Frances Shea continue to comment on events post-mortem. Even after she is seen curled up on a bed, surrounded by her own bile-strewn blood, and once again after she can be observed lying supine on a metal table in a morgue. A mortuary. A room, for corpses, such as her. On she goes, expounding on the unbreakable connection of love shared between herself and her sweet Reggie, as well as his brother’s psychiatric diagnosis of murderous schizophrenic psychopathy. Chatty, for a cadaver.
Helgeland used Shea as the exposition provider because it would have been tricky deciding which Kray would narrate which bit, especially as some may find it hard to distinguish between Tom Hardy’s two cockney accents, them being twins. And if they used Ronnie, his mental health issues would have raised the problem of unreliable narration, complicating things further still. No, better to have a dead girl do it, then when she cops it, go with the old, “Oh, were you expecting me to live just because I’ve been talking to you directly for 3/4 of the length of the film? Sorry to smash your sense of security, honey, but that ain’t how life works. And if you claim to have guessed this was going to happen, then well done for seeing Kick Ass or Sixth Sense or numerous other films in which comparable rugs of shitness get pulled out from under you”. That’s not verbatim, but in all honesty it isn’t far from it. Ultimately, Frances’ death is pinned on Reggie Kray’s neglect and one-time domestic abuse (could have been more in real life; film implies it was a single occasion) so that her mother can spit, “You did this! You did this to her! It was you that killed her”, which is then enough strain placed on Hardy’s Reggie Kray to get on with the grieving, heavy drinking, and stabbing which landed him in prison, wrapping up the film nicely as it does so.