Legend | 2015
In 1990, brothers Gary and Martin Kemp portrayed notorious London gangsters Ron and Reggie Kray in Peter Medak’s quirky, Philip Ridley-scripted The Krays. Advances in technology mean that Tom Hardy can now pull off the feat of playing both twins while interacting convincingly.
Director Brian Helgeland (the screenwriter of LA Confidential) presents a very different take on the story but, by chance or as an homage to that film, Legend uses at least three of the same locations.
The Krays lived, famously, at 178 Vallance Road in Bethnal Green in London’s East End. Dubbed ‘Fortress Vallance’, their home has long since been demolished, though the street retains some of the original terraced houses.
Legend uses a small knot of near intact Georgian streets near Waterloo to stand in for 60s ‘Bethnal Green’. ‘Vallance Road’, where Reg thoughtfully takes out a cuppa to the cops staking out their house, is Whittlesey Street (don’t look for the church and gasometer at the ends of the street, which were added digitally). 16 Whittlesey Street, London SE1, at Windmill Walk, becomes the Krays’ house.
Some quite elaborate sets, including period shops and post WWII bomb-damaged houses, were constructed in the immediate area – on Windmill Walk, Theed Street and Roupell Street. A bombed house was built on the corner of Windmill Walk, along with a sweet shop (where Ron narrowly escapes being run down by a car), and it’s on Theed Street that the nervous barmaid, who witnessed a murder, nervously avoids Reggie Kray.
For the 1990 film, a house on Caradoc Street in Greenwich, southeast London, became the Kray home and, amazingly the same house, 32 Caradoc Street, SE10, is used here as the home of Reg’s wife-to-be, Frances (Emily Browning), her brother Frank and her very disapproving mother.
There’s perhaps a hint of Goodfellas as Reg impresses Frances with a night out at the ‘Double R Club’ which, it turns out, is owned by the brothers. Standing in for the club is the Ivy House, 40 Stuart Road, Peckham SE15 down in southeast London.
Built as the Newlands Tavern in the 1930s, the bar became a key venue on the pub rock circuit in the 70s, hosting gigs by such famous names as Joe Strummer, Ian Dury, Dr Feelgood, and Jeff Beck.
The Newlands closed down in 2012 but before property developers could carry out their plans to gut the pub and turn it into apartments, it was rescued by a doughty group of dedicated community volunteers who raised a million pounds to buy the freehold, and it re-opened as the Ivy House.
Bought under the ‘community right to bid’ provisions of the Localism Act, the Ivy House is London's first co-operatively owned pub, and still hosts live performances. Now it’s thankfully Grade-II listed, as having "an unusually high level of surviving original features and fittings [forming] a largely complete 1930s interior".
One of the film's authentic locations is Pellicci’s Café, 332 Bethnal Green Road, E2, which amazingly remains virtually unchanged since the 1940s. Standing just around the corner from the real Vallance Road, this was not surprisingly a real hangout of the Krays and that’s how it’s seen in the film, as members of the firm discuss the idea of peace talks with the rival Richardson gang.
The ‘Pig and Whistle’ pub, where the discussion between the two sides quickly descends into a bloody mess of knuckledusters and hammers, is Turner’s Old Star, 14 Watts Street in Wapping, E1.
Dating back to 1830, the Old Star is another establishment with a fascinating history – but from a different era, having once been owned by painter JMW Turner (hence the present name).
In 1833, Turner met Sophia Booth, a widowed landlady from Margate who was to become his mistress until his death in 1851 (you can see a dramatization of his life in Mike Leigh’s Mr Turner).
When the famously randy painter inherited two cottages, he converted them into a tavern, named it The Old Star and installed Mrs Booth as proprietor. To maintain secrecy from the 19th century equivalent of paparazzi, Turner adopted Sophia’s surname, becoming known locally, due to his short stature and increasing girth, as 'Puggy Booth'.
The office of the Krays’ business partner, Leslie Payne (David Thewlis), where the three politely invite a nightclub owner to sell them his business, is Queen Alexandra’s House, Kensington Gore, alongside the Royal Albert Hall.
The famous Rivoli Ballroom, 350 Brockley Road, Brockley SE4, South London, portrays ‘Esmeralda’s Barn’, the club the Krays eventually buy in ‘Knightsbridge’. Originally built as a picture palace in 1913, and now the only intact 1950s ballroom in London , the Rivoli is also seen another piece of London showbiz history My Week With Marilyn and in Captain America’s 40s flashback in Avengers: Age Of Ultron. The ballroom's bar stands in for an 'East German' club in Tony Scott’s Spy Game, with Brad Pitt.
The real Esmeralda's Barn stood at the Knightsbridge end of Wilton Place, where the five-star Berkeley Hotel now stands.
As Reg and Frances’s relationship goes through one of its many rocky passages, he goes looking for her in a street market on Teesdale Street, at Canrobert Street, back in the real Bethnal Green, where smart businesses we redressed back to their shabby 60s appearance. Just down the road, at 88 Teesdale Street, stood ‘Sol’s Pawn Shop’ in Guy Ritchie’s Snatch.
Reg and Frances inevitably make up and, in the face of opposition from Frances’ mum, get married. The church in which they wed is St Anne's Church, Three Colt Street, London E14. Probably not a good omen – this is also the church full of bodies in which Cillian Murphy finds “The end is extremely fucking nigh” scrawled on the wall in 28 Days Later…
When the couple sets up home in an apartment block, that’s the real Cedra Court, Cazenove Road, Clapton N16, where the lads did indeed keep a couple of flats, one above the other.
Many of the film’s interiors were shot in the Farmiloes Building, St John Street in Clerkenwell. You can see the Farmiloes’ huge skylit court as the warehouse where a hapless employee is on the receiving end of the underworld’s intimidation tactics. It’s a regular location, seen in Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy as well as, again, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and David Cronenberg's Eastern Promises.
Throughout the years, the Krays were granted a certain informal immunity by their social connections, including Tory peer Lord Boothby, and they finally fulfill their dream of owning a proper West End nightclub.
The ‘Hide-A-Way’ was the glitzy interior of the Café de Paris, 3 Coventry Street, W1, between Piccadilly Circus and Leicester Square.
During the Blitz, when most of the West End closed down, the Café remained open on the assumption that it was bomb-proof. Tragically, this turned out not to be the case, and a direct hit killed 34 people.
Rebuilt, it continued to provide entertainment for the glitterati until it hit a slump in the Eighties, when it found fame as a movie backdrop, for the 1990 film of The Krays as well as Absolute Beginners, Scandal. The Café slummed it a little as the ‘Soho’ strip club where John Goodman relaxed in King Ralph. It bounced back as a glamorous nitespot in Lone Scherfig’s 2009 Oscar-nominated An Education and as a decadent 'Vegas' club in X-Men: First Class. In 2020, following the Covid lockdown, it finally closed its doors for good. It had to be recreated in the studio for the Sixties scenes of Edgar Wright's Last Night In Soho.
Obviously London has changed enormously in 50 years, so the film has to be imaginative in its use of locations. Narrow, cobbled Coronet Street, between trendy Hoxton Square and Boot Street, became neon-lit ‘Soho’ through which the Krays are driven. This stretch of road is also where you’ll find the exterior of the ‘Metro’ bar from The Crying Game, by the way.
Prime Minister Harold Wilson’s joy at discovering the involvement of Lord Boothby in gay orgies is cut short when he learns that Labour MP Tom Driberg is also implicated, along with the Krays.
‘Chequers’, the PM’s country retreat is Hedsor House & Park, Taplow, Buckinghamshire, previously seen as the musicians’ retirement home in Dustin Hoffman’s Quartet. It’s also used in the 2010 remake of Brighton Rock, as the home of Nicole Kidman in The Golden Compass and in Johnny Depp misfire, Mortdecai.
With Ron becoming increasingly unhinged, time is running out and it’s payback time for George Cornell, who unwisely called Ronnie ‘a fat poof’ in public.
It was in the bar of The Blind Beggar in Whitechapel that Ron put a bullet in Cornell’s head in front of a bar-full of witnesses. The Beggar still stands, at 337 Whitechapel Road, but it’s been extensively modernised since its moment of notoriety.
As a stand-in, Legend uses The Royal Oak, 73 Columbia Road, E2. This old-fashioned boozer (recently Grade II listed) is another location which appeared briefly in The Krays.
The Oak was barely recognizable as South Seas theme pub ‘Samoan Jo’s’ in Lock, Stock And Two Smoking Barrels, and was the major location for long-running TV time-travel sitcom Goodnight, Sweetheart.
After a falling out with their long-term partner Payne results in a botched attempt on his life at his house, 11 Highbury Hill, Islington N5, just north of Highbury Fields, the writing is on the wall for the Krays. Their one-time ally begins to talk to the police.
Things are not helped when Reg bloodily stabs to death Jack ‘The Hat’ McVitie, responsible for the attempted killing of Payne, at a party.
The murder took place on Evering Road, Stoke Newington, but the film uses a basement flat on Falmouth Street in Stratford, E15.
Realising things have gone too far, Reg disconsolately walks along the Regent’s Canal footpath under the bridge at Cambridge Heath – just across from the nightclub of Freddie Mays (David Thewlis, who plays Payne) in another violent slice of London underworld culture, Gangster No 1, and the safe house used by the agents in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.
Before the law finally catches up with the twins, there’s one last blow as the long-suffering Frances finally ends her life with an overdose of pills. Her funeral, attended by Reggie Kray in defiance of her family’s wishes, is held at Kingston Cemetery, Bonner Hill Road, Kingston upon Thames.