The Krays: The Final Word Review

Simon Evans has reviewed the Region 2 release of The Krays: The Final Word.

Nobody over the age of fifteen can be unaware of the Krays. The name itself is synonymous with crime and the world of gangsters. Although Reggie died almost 12 months ago and his older twin brother Ronnie back in 1995 their name still provokes a response from almost anyone you may mention it to.

There have been attempts in the past by ITV, the BBC and many independent film makers to tell the story of the Kray twins. The new angle for this effort is the involvement of the very ill (indeed he died just 12 days after filming was completed) Reggie Kray.

This programme was first broadcast on terrestrial television last year. It was shown as an hour long documentary tracing the rise and demise of the notorious brothers. This DVD is essentially a ‘director’s cut’ which effectively doubles the length of the original.

Not having seen the initial broadcast it is impossible to say what has been added, there is some swearing which probably wasn’t in the broadcast but that aside I cannot say whether this new footage adds to the documentary. What I will say is that I cannot imagine it being nearly as thorough if it’s running time was halved.

Split into bite-sized chunks the story begins with childhood reminiscences and takes us right through to Ronnie’s funeral and Reggie’s second marriage to Roberta. Comprehensive is a fair description. No subject is shied away from and we are told by those who were present about the many of the key events including murders of George Cornell, Frank ‘Mad Axe’ Mitchell and Jack ‘The Hat’ McVitie and more interestingly details of Ronnie’s homosexuality.

The cast assembled is pretty impressive, Former Superintendent Leonard ‘Nipper’ Read recounts the details of the case as though it were yesterday and ex-Mirror journalist Lynn Lewis recalls the shocking sword punishment meted out to David Litvinoff whereby Ronnie pushed a sword into his mouth virtually splitting his face in two from ear to ear.

The Krays began their ascent to notoriety in the late 50s and continued to rise, brushing aside the likes of Jack Spot and Billy Hill on their way up. By the time the 60s had dawned they had a reputation and had been in many illegal scrapes. Their barrister of the time Nemone Lethbridge looks back on them with a touch too much fondness but nonetheless offers some insights to the Kray way of life.

The twins moved from local heavies, working under the employ of Billy Hill to club owners. Starting with the RR (Ronnie/Reggie) Club in the East End but adding the likes of Esmerelda’s in Knightsbridge and also the Kentucky.

They loved the limelight and would make every effort to get visiting celebrities to drop by one of their establishments. From film stars like Judy Garland to sportsmen like Joe Louis the Kray’s became famous by association, and loved every minute of it. It became commonplace for celebrities to seek out the brothers, they liked to spend time with the East London roughs, the Kray’s loved spending time with the rich and famous.

In 1965 the rivalry with the South London Richardson firm reached a peak. Before any sort of showdown could be arranged though, the Richardson’s imploded. Ronnie was extremely frustrated by this turn of events and seemed to be hankering after his first kill. This eventually took place in the Blind Beggar pub and saw the demise of George Cornell. Shot by Ronnie, ‘Scotch’ Jock Dickson and Ian Barrie were his accomplices.

In 1966, Britain’s most infamous prisoner was the ‘mad axeman’ Frank Mitchell. In December the Krays hatched a plot to liberate him from Dartmoor where he had earned the right to go out with the work party. With unseemly ease he was plucked off the Moor and holed-up at a flat in London. Understandably he wanted to meet with the twins but his requests were constantly denied. After 11 days he was deemed a liability and he was ‘dealt with’ by two members of the Kray firm.

The most infamous murder was that of Jack ‘The Hat’ McVitie. This is the one that finally tightened the police noose. Reggie was responsible for stabbing the violent thief and he left basement room with instructions for the Lambrianou brothers, Tony and Chris to ensure the murder scene was left looking pristine.

The Kray’s reign came to an end on 5th May 1968 when the police arrested them and eight members of their gang. The police case is not really dealt with here, preferring instead to comment on the ensuing court case.

The murders of McVitie and Cornell were tried together – an unusual step given that the dock contained eight men for the former and just two for the latter. this meant, essentially that large parts of the cases were irrelevant to at least two of the accused at any given time. The judge for the trial was the strict Justice Melford Stephenson. The Home Office ensured extremely tight security was in place for the trial. Defence lawyer John Platts-Mills feels that the whole event was designed to ‘undermine the defence and underscore the prosecution.’

Indeed some of the newspaper clippings in display would now invoke a similar response to that given to the Daily Mirror upon publication of near-the-knuckle stories during the trail of Leeds United footballers Lee Bowyer and Jonathan Woodgate.

The outcome was never in doubt though and the twins received 30 year sentences with Charlie getting 10. The others were sentenced to serve from 15 down to 7 years. Most feel more than a bit hard done-by and only the born-again Christian Chris Lambrianou does not plead his case on camera.

The story continues on with recollections of time inside, the death of Ronnie and Reggie’s 1997 marriage to Roberta. Naturally, Reggie’s death provides the final chapter in this fascinating saga.

Reggie is filmed on his sick bed, smoking and drinking whisky whilst sounding and looking very old and frail. The problem is, that whilst he does offer up some snippets (and at least one revelation) he isn’t in any state to provide the lead voice. As a result the producers have assembled an impressive cast of former associates, lawyers, friends and journalists to flesh out the history.

Generally the views we get are authentic tales from many of those who were close to the Krays at the time. Many have now written books and memoirs and it is possible to detect that certain people are telling stories that they have recounted many times before.

The film makers have decided to let the participants live or die by their words and strangely only a few come out sounding like Krays apologists. Family friend Johnny Squib comes over as too much of an apologist for my liking. “They had people who worked for ‘em, did their bidding – but not villainy. I’m not talking about villainy because if they had the needle with someone they would go and do it themself (sic)…” Well thats alright then – thank goodness they didn’t send others to carry out horrific acts of violent retribution, no they did it themselves.

By and large the viewer is left to make-up their own mind. A lot of time is devoted to the court case and many of those involved feel that there was a desire to send them down no matter what. If this had been in America they would no doubt have shouted conspiracy. The bottom-line is, though, that three murders were carried out and are admitted to here by those involved. If the judge was over strict that is just tough. Playing with fire gives rise to the possibility of burnt fingers.

My overall feelings are one of morbid interest. I feel that, unlike may of those sentenced, that the Kray’s got what was deserved. Reggie talks of at least one other murder for which they weren’t tried (It is speculatively suggested to be Teddy Smith one time boyfriend of Ronnie) and my impression is of a pair of violent men who would have continued their life of violence had it not been for their arrests and subsequent incarceration.

Reggie talks of brushes with other inmates and also with the guards. Chris Lambrianou tells of witnessing a murder in cold blood whilst inside. This does not strengthen the case put forward by the likes of Freddie Foreman and Kray trial lawyer John Platts-Mills that they were dealt with in an overly harsh way.

A fascinating documentary with at least two genuinely surprising revelations – if you want to know what they are without watching the disc – email me!

Despite being shot for television the disc is presented in anamorphic widescreen and offers a very crisp picture (except the close-ups of Reggie Kray on his sick-bed which look a little soft). The picture is generally superb with the archive footage giving great contrast between the blacks and whites.

Naturally there is no 5.1 sound mix, merely a Dolby Stereo track which, it must be said, sounds great. The rich East End accents positively boom out of my speakers and aurally the disc is a delight for something that leads so heavily on voice. Subtitles are provided in English only and prove pretty useful when Reggie is speaking, his frail rasp is sometimes a little tricky to decode.

The extras won’t take long to go through, but they are well worth the effort. In reverse order we have the Order of Service from Reggie’s funeral which rather ironically contains the hymn ‘Fight The Good Fight’. Next is ‘The Kray’s Manor’. This is a non-interactive animated map of the Hackney, Bethnal Green, Shoreditch area of London. It scrolls slowly down the screen with green text boxes popping up with information on the salient events.

Finally, and best of all there is a comprehensive Biographies section which details just about everyone featured in the documentary. Not just a static page of text, we have a filmed quote from the person in question followed by a screenful of text that provides background info like date of birth and early life as well as answering the ‘Where Are They Now?’ questions. This is a must watch and my advice is watch it before the main feature as proves to be an enormous benefit.

To finish, I will say this: I do not want to sit and judge, although in a review of a factual disc like this it impossible to not let my personal feelings come into the review. You will be able to guess how I feel about the Kray’s through reading this and I stopped trying to keep my feelings from popping in very early on. I found the disc to be informative and entertaining. I knew of the Kray’s story before I watched this disc but this disc filled in a lot of blanks.

Reggie clearly felt that this was a cathartic process but even though he must have known he was close to death he couldn’t bring himself to show any real remorse for his actions it is pointless apologizing for being ‘a little too violent in the past’ he said. I would say that by condemning his actions in the past I would have come away with a lot more respect for him.

This is well worth a watch and is good value – even if you saw it broadcast. That said, unless you are planning to write a book or launch a gangsters website it is not the sort of thing that demands repeat viewing.

Simon Evans

Updated: Oct 10, 2001

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