The Krays

This absolute stunner of a crime film tells the true story of the Krays, twin brothers who ruled London's underworld in the Sixties. Gary Kemp plays Ronald, a homosexual who carved up his enemies with an antique saber. Martin Kemp plays Reginald, a married man (though his wife commits suicide) who followed his demented brother's lead. The Kemps, also twins, are electrifying as the Krays. Members of the rock group Spandau Ballet, both have acted since childhood, mostly on British TV. But nothing they've done before approaches the driving force of this work.

Born into poverty – with their father usually on the run from the law – the Krays saw crime as a glamour job. They took control of several London clubs, moving up socially until it became common to see their photos in newspapers with the likes of Judy Garland, Rocky Marciano and Frank Sinatra. But their brutality continued unabated. In 1969, they were convicted of two murders and sentenced to thirty years in prison.

It's a chilling tale. But what makes The Krays distinctive is the way that writer Philip Ridley goes beyond the facts to the story's mythic heart. Grippingly directed by Peter Medak (it's his keenest work since The Ruling Class, in 1972), the film shows the Krays growing up in a house dominated by strong, man-hating women, including a grandmother, two aunts and a mother, Violet (Billie Whitelaw), whom they revere and fear. Blind to the crimes of her sons, Violet is nevertheless made of the same steel. Whitelaw gives one of the year's most striking performances in a movie that explores the dark urges of the mind and leaves you shaken.

From The Archives Issue 590: November 1, 1990