LEGEND FILM: Helgeland tells why he made The Krays into ‘movie heroes’
- Credit: 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.
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.
“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.
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“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.
“For cinematic characters, they’re very rich, without having to invent anything,” he added.
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“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.”
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.
“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.
“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.