LEGEND FILM: Helgeland tells why he made The Krays into ‘movie heroes’

PUBLISHED: 11:36 24 September 2015 | UPDATED: 11:36 24 September 2015

Tom Hardy... is Ronnie and Reggie Kray

Tom Hardy... is Ronnie and Reggie Kray

Working Title Films

Hollywood film producer Brian Helgaland has been defending the way he portrays the Krays who ruled the East End’s gangland in the 1960s as “heroes” in his $19 million blockbuster Legend to a live audience at its pre-screening.

Legend movie-maker Brian HelgelandLegend movie-maker Brian Helgeland

And he has apologised through the East London Advertiser to the family of Frances Kray, Reggie’s tragic wife who took her life, for not getting them involved in last summer’s movie production for the film released this month.

Helgeland was asked during a questions-and-answers session staged at the Genesis cinema in Mile End why he “humanised the Krays and turned them into heroes”.

He insisted: “They were the protagonists, the heroes of the film—not heroes in the traditional sense.

Legend... scene from back streets of Bethnal GreenLegend... scene from back streets of Bethnal Green

“That’s not to apologise for them—I can’t look down on them, not look up at them. I have to be with them and travel along to tell the story.

“It’s easy to demonise the Krays. But to humanise them is not to apologise, because it’s much more complicated than just ‘good’ or ‘evil’.”

Legend tells the story of Reggie Kray’s romance with Frances Shea and their doomed marriage, set against the violence, thuggery and murder of the Kray twins’ evil empire of crime operating in Bethnal Green from their mother Violet’s house in Vallance Road.

Frances before her suicide, holding cousin Rita Smith's little baby Kim who is now 49Frances before her suicide, holding cousin Rita Smith's little baby Kim who is now 49

“For cinematic characters, they’re very rich, without having to invent anything,” he added.

“I wanted to see them at the height and their fall, like a Greek tragedy.

“I didn’t want to give them the excuse of their childhood. Saying it was all down to growing up during the Blitz which made them gangsters is unfair to everyone else who grew up at that time who didn’t become gangsters.”

Frances Shea today... and pictures of her aunt Frances Kray in the 1960sFrances Shea today... and pictures of her aunt Frances Kray in the 1960s

But the film has drawn anger from Frances Kray’s niece, Frances Shea, daughter of Frankie Shea who was the ‘wheels man’ for the Krays.

She told her story exclusively in the Advertiser last month about being “the forgotten family” ignored by the movie makers.

Frances and daughter Bonnie even stormed out of the preview in Leicester Square last month at the scene showing her aunt’s suicide, claiming it was all wrong.

Ex-Kray henchman Chris Lambrianou, today, with Legend movie's producer Brian HelgelandEx-Kray henchman Chris Lambrianou, today, with Legend movie's producer Brian Helgeland

“We didn’t know about the Sheas,” Brian said later. “I feel bad about that.

“But I was looking for primary sources, those who were adults when they knew Frances Kray. Her niece was three years old when Frances died.”

He added: “I know Frances Shea was upset with the suicide scene. It’s understandable.

Legend... Tom Hardy as Ronnie and Reggie KrayLegend... Tom Hardy as Ronnie and Reggie Kray

“I’m very proud of how we portrayed Frances and the voice we gave her.

“But I feel bad that they are upset. I didn’t know about them when I was researching. I offered to meet them at the screening—but they refused.”

It was former Kray henchman Chris Lambrianou who took Helgeland around the East End last summer to meet known members of the Krays’ crime ‘Firm’. But they failed to trace the Shea family.

Lambrianou told the Advertiser: “It was impossible to find the Sheas. Brian wanted everyone involved—he wanted all the information he could get to portray the characters as realistically as he could.

“But if you can’t find people, you can’t do it. Brian did the best he could and gave Frances a voice.”

Lambrianou was best mates with Frances Kray’s brother Frankie. They lived a few streets away in Haggerston and were in the same class at school. But the neighbourhood had changed by the time Helgeland arrived to research the Krays—40 years after they were sent down at the Old Bailey.

Latest East London Entertainment Stories

Friday, September 14, 2018

Artists are throwing open their studio doors to the public in east London this weekend as part of a free ‘open studios’ event for the 50th anniversary of the Space arts organisation.

Friday, September 14, 2018

A choir that takes on new members without auditions is recruiting for its Christmas concert performance in Limehouse.

Thursday, September 13, 2018

A family history event is being staged to help anyone who thinks their ancestors may have been East End suffragettes fighting for votes for women more than 100 years ago.

Thursday, September 13, 2018

The Troxy is slipping back through a timewarp on September 23 with a nostalgic performance on its historic Wurlitzer theatre organ.

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Top fashion returns to Canary Wharf later this month with three days of catwalk shows, pop-up boutiques, live music and enticing discounts.

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Secondary school pupils from east London have met the cast of Dreamgirls stage production in the West End in a move to inspire the next generation of theatre talent.

Friday, September 7, 2018

One lovable pussy-cat is taking over the iconic Tower Bridge for the day when a new feline adventure book comes out.

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Some of the ‘Little Ships’ that took part in the Dunkirk wartime military evacuations are among vintage sailing and motor boats taking part in a floating festival at St Katharine Docks this weekend.


Are you a landlord looking for a fixed rental income, paid whether the property is empty or not? Steve Westley, general manager at estate agents Elliot Leigh, explains their Guaranteed Rent Scheme and how it takes the stress out of letting your property.

Newsletter Sign Up

East London Advertiser twice-weekly newsletter
Sign up to receive our regular email newsletter

Our Privacy Policy

Most read entertainment

Show Job Lists

Digital Edition


Enjoy the
Docklands and East London Advertiser
e-edition today


Education and Training


Read the
Education and Training
e-edition today

Read Now