Movie Review By Monica Sullivan
We were glutted with gangster movies in the fall of 1990, a fact of life certain to affect the reception of a film like "The Krays" starring Gary and Martin Kemp of Spandau Ballet fame. The Kray Twins owned a succession of nightclubs in the sixties. They made it their business to be seen and photographed with the right people, some of whom, ironically appear in this film. Portions of a 1963 British film called "Sparrows Can't Sing" were filmed at one of their clubs and the Krays mingled with the cast at the opening night party. But, as Ronald Kray's character aptly points out in this Peter Medak film scripted by Philip Ridley, "Glamour is fear." London's East End certainly had abundant reasons to fear the Krays. When they weren't hanging out with Judy Garland and other international celebrities, the Krays were brutal homicidal thugs. They thought nothing of sustaining their empire through murder and did so on several occasions, some of which are horrifyingly reenacted in their movie biography.
In contrast, the rest of their lives were painfully ordinary. Both were devoted to their mother Violet, who obligingly served them tea and biscuits as they plotted their assorted gangland strategies. Ronald's private life was filled with a succession of attractive young boys while Reginald doggedly pursued a young woman named Frances Shea (renamed Dawson in the film). It is the film's perspective on Frances that sets "The Krays" apart from most other gangster films. Frances descended into madness and suicidal despair after she married Reginald Kray. Her freedom of mobility began and ended with their relationship, and no material benefits could compensate for the terror she experienced when her life was no longer her own. The cliche, that women are attracted to and blinded by money and power, is shattered by Philip Ridley's sharply observed account of Frances Kray.
Billie Whitelaw does a superb turn as Violet Kray and the Kemp brothers are quite good as the twins. Show business veteran Jimmy Jewel (1909-93) has fun with a grandfather role and even gets a chance to perform "Balling the Jack". Kate Hardie does a touchingly sensitive job as Frances and Tom Bell is slimily venal as always as a vicious but gutless hood. Victor Spinetti and Barbara Ferris, one-time show business acquaintances of the twins, have one good sequence as Frances' parents. Peter Medak, who was an assistant director on "Sparrows Can't Sing", knew the Kray twins in the heady early sixties, long before their criminal careers crashed to a halt. (Ronald died at 61 in 1995). Because of Medak's exceptional feeling for the period and for his subjects, "The Krays" may be the sort of film that will linger in your mind weeks and months after you've seen it.
© 2000 - Monica Sullivan - Air Date: 10/11/00
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