When you think of Martin and Gary Kemp, the last thing that’ll spring to mind is gangster action. The duo best known for fronting Spandau Ballet made their cinematic debuts in The Krays, a 1990 drama directed by Peter Medak. With a new limited-edition release from Second Sight Films releasing July 12 on Blu-Ray, the film is back in the public eye – but the three decades since its release haven’t been kind to The Krays.
Rather than tracking their entire criminal enterprise, the film focuses mainly on their early years, culminating with their incarceration in 1969. It goes full period piece, with glimpses at their childhood during the Second World War, adorned with contemporary outfits, vehicles, and even a brilliant scene involving the Blitz.
The problem with The Krays is that it doesn’t do enough to make us care about the twins. Neither of the Kemps are natural-born acting talents, and that really shines through here – especially as the script doesn’t give them enough to work with. They go from brash young fighters, causing trouble but having fun, to organised crime bruisers far too quickly – and it’s a transition that’s barely explored or explained. By missing out on their rise to notoriety, we lose key character moments that would’ve helped make the twins more engaging. It’s the same for momentous moments in their lives – in subsequent scenes, we witness Reggie’s girlfriend Frances (Kate Hardie) meet his family, and in the very next scene, they’re on their honeymoon. It’s these crucial character-building moments that we miss, and the film suffers for it.
Which is a shame, because there are moments where The Krays really clicks. The Kemps look the part, with a svelte wardrobe between them that flaunts their high-class lifestyle, and with that, there’s some truly insightful commentary into the role of femininity and women in the life of high-flying male gangsters. Their aunt Rose (Susan Fleetwood) has a terrific monologue about halfway through about how women make countless silent sacrifices for men, forced to grow up and lose themselves while men have all the fun. It’s a biting commentary about the veil of masculinity that The Krays really should explore more, but abandons in favour of violent shoot-outs and beatings.
There’s an insightful message in here somewhere, but Medak, alongside screenwriter Philip Ridley, aren’t quite able to eke it out. At one moment, they’ll show how destructive the gangster lifestyle is, and how it destroys people around the Krays, before following it up with an action sequence that completely does away with any insightful ideas built elsewhere. The most interesting scene is the final shot, as they’re older, more decrepit, and under the fist of law enforcement. They’ve clearly suffered and lost as a result of their crime – butThe Krays prefers to put this to the side.
The Krays limited-edition Blu-Ray comes out on July 12, 2021, from Second Sight Films.