Shea family feel ‘left out’ of Kray movie Legend about story of ‘tragic’ Frances
PUBLISHED: 17:00 12 August 2015 | UPDATED: 00:28 14 August 2015
The ‘forgotten’ family that married into the notorious Krays are speaking out for the first time to tell their story just four weeks before the Hollywood movie about the 1960s gangland twins is out.
Relatives of Reggie’s “tragic wife” Frances Kray who committed suicide in 1967 say they were not contacted by any researchers making Legend which is being released in London on September 9.
The Shea family are not bitter—but just want their voice heard.
“I’m here to speak for my aunt,” her niece Frances Shea tells tomorrow’s East London Advertiser exclusively. “I don’t want my grandchild in 20 years time to look back at a ‘tragic’ aunt Frances.
“My aunt has been portrayed in the past as an insipid ‘trophy’ wife. But she wanted to marry Reggie Kray and was confident enough to sit next to people like Barbara Windsor and Judy Garland.
“She made a mark on the world and my uncle Reggie adored her.”
Frances Shea was just four when her namesake aunt Frances Kray took her own life.
“She killed herself in my bed,” the niece tells you. “We shared that bed on many nights when she’d curl up and read me stories.
“I kissed her goodnight, the last I remember of Frances—she was dead the next day.”
The Kray twins Reggie and Ronnie ruled a gangland empire of murder and extortion from their mother Violet’s small terraced house in Bethnal Green.
Reggie’s marriage to Frances went wrong after two years and she moved in with her brother Frankie Shea in Hoxton—where she took an overdose and laid down on her little niece’s bed to die.
The niece, now 52, worries that next month’s blockbuster has missed out on the real Shea family story. They were never contacted when Legend was being filmed last summer.
“Everybody has been ignoring the Shea family for years,” she adds.
“I would like to see the film, but don’t want to see my family’s history up there on the Big Screen being played and have no control over the story.
“I want people to see her for what she was, not as Reggie Kray’s ‘trophy wife’.
“I’m not here to create any bitterness over the film—there was enough bitterness with the Krays back in the 1960s.
“But add a bit of ‘suicide’ and there’s going to be a bitter parent involved. My granddad witnessed all that and was heartbroken.”
Frances Kray’s embittered mother Elsie Shea never forgave the Krays for her death and was against the marriage to Reggie from the start—even turning up at the wedding at St James’s Church in Bethnal Green Road in 1965 dressed in black as if it was a funeral.
Her brother Frankie—Frances Shea’s father—committed suicide in 2011 aged 71, knowing he was dying of throat cancer.
Frankie’s granddaughter Bonny, 26, told the Advertiser: “We’ve had to deal with Frankie’s terrible death and still haven’t got over that.
“Nobody contacted us about the auctions of his possessions, his memorabilia, family photos, Frances’s private letters and her diary, all out there for the world to use, for a film character without any living family sources.
“Frances sat down and spoke into a dictaphone and said whatever she wanted—but they were the babbles of a mentally-ill woman.”
The Sheas tried contacting the film company, but say they got no replies to phone messages or emails and feel “let down”.
They are easy to find on the internet, they point out. Tap in Frankie Shea and all the names crop up, including daughter Frances and granddaughter Bonny.
Their family Facebook Page has many messages from wellwishers—but nothing from film researchers.
Bonny acknowledges the film about her great-aunt and the Krays is “going to be a good movie”, but adds: “We could have helped make the ‘Frances’ and ‘Frankie’ characters authentic. Instead, anyone can chip in.
“They didn’t speak to the only living person who was with Frances, my mum. You had to be there and been involved to really know what Frances Kray was like. You can’t just create a person on stuff you’ve read.
“Frances was Frances—not just the Kray gangster’s ‘tragic’ trophy wife.”
Legend is billed as a true-crime ‘Romeo and Juliet’ with Emily Browning as Frances Kray and Tom Hardy playing both Kray twins.
Hollywood producer Brian Helgeland spent last summer researching the Krays’ old East End haunts such as Pellicci’s café in Bethnal Green Road, meeting associates of the Krays including former 1960s tabloid pin-up Maureen Flanagan and many former gangland figures—but did not meet the Shea family.