The Krays is a fascinating film about the notorious the British gangster twins, Ronald and Reginald Kray. The film was directed by noted Hungarian/British director Peter Medak, who also directed The Ruling Class, The Changeling and numerous other films as well as high-quality episodic television. However, the real auteur behind this interpretation of the Krays story is legendary cult artist Philip Ridley, who has dabbled in filmmaking with three features that he would go on to write and direct, The Reflecting Skin, The Passion of Darkly Noon and Heartless. Ridley is also a very notable playwright and author of many books, including many for children. He is one of the most visionary filmmakers in British cinema (even if half of his films are set in America), and one who simply doesn’t care enough to make it his “career.”
Ridley grew up in Bethnal Green in the East End of London in the ’60s, so the Krays were very much in his life from an early age due to stories relatives told about them. Medak did actually meet the Krays in the early ’60s when he was working on a British film shot in the East End. Ridley’s experience of living in the East End at the time is responsible for the surprising narrative he constructs, which is far more interested in the matriarchal nature of the East End at the time and focuses in on the Krays’ mother Violet (Billie Whitelaw) and Reggie’s girlfriend Frances (Kate Hardie). The film also has a strong sense of being a dark fairytale, which is very in keeping with Ridley having absolutely no interest in “realism.” This makes it stand out from the routine British gangster film. The crimes the Krays commit are kind of an afternote, with not a police officer in sight for the entire film.
For the average viewer, the most notable thing about The Krays is the very obvious stunt casting of Gary and Martin Kemp as Ron and Reggie. They are actually pretty good in the roles, and both Kemps have gone on to interesting careers in TV and film. Billie Whitelaw gives what is undoubtedlythe standout performance of the film, but the supporting cast is full of great British character actors like Tom Bell. The film also handles Ronnie Kray’s sexuality very tastefully for a film made in 1990. Ronnie identified as both homosexual and bisexual throughout his life, and was married twice to women. Ridley himself is gay, and knew making a film about this sadistic psychopath who happens to be attracted to men could be very tabloidy. He just made it completely normalised in the film, a tiny aspect of the character and not remotely responsible for his mental state or his actions.
The Krays doesn’t hold a candle to Ridley’s own films, but it’s an interesting film that has an inntelligent script, some striking images, andsurprisingly good turns from the Kemps. At times it plays more like a horror film instead of the East End geezer film it so easily could’ve been. Second Sight’s release includes two commentary tracks, one with film historian Scott Harrison and an archival commentary with Peter Medak, Gary Kemp and Martin Kemp, plus new interviews with Medak, Ridley (whose is audio only) and producer Ray Burdis. There’s also a BFI Q&A from 2015 with Gary Kemp, Martin Kemp, Kate Hardie, Peter Medak and Philip Ridley. The release is packaged with a soft-cover book with new essays by Andre