The Dazzling Bi-Brilliance of Tom Hardy

Tom Hardy

“Inee lahvelee?”

So says pretty much every­one in Legend about Tom Hardy’s looks. And the latest re-telling of the story of Ronald and Reginald Kray, the sharp-suited, impeccably-groomed, glam­or­ous gang­ster twins who ruled 1960s London’s under­world, is a mostly enjoy­able movie which often glad­dens the eye (even if it makes you wince a bit dur­ing the viol­ent scenes).

How could it not? After all, it stars not one, but two Tom Hardys — he plays, as every­one must know now since it’s the whole con­ceit of the movie, both twins.

Despite this, it does man­age to get a little bor­ing some­times. Legend makes the mis­take of think­ing that we’re more inter­ested in ‘Reggie’ than ‘Ronnie’ – because he wasn’t the mad, ‘gay’ one.

So it has a from-beyond-the-grave voice-over ostens­ibly provided by Reggie’s first wife, Frances Shea (Emily Browning) who com­mit­ted sui­cide in 1967, two years after their mar­riage. The nar­rat­ive focus of the film is essen­tially on what it por­trays as her doomed attempt to ‘save’ Reggie, domest­ic­ate him and make him ‘nor­mal’ — and how this even­tu­ally kills her. But no one, apart from Frances, wants him to be nor­mal (and maybe she didn’t either: her fam­ily dis­putes the film’s vic­timy por­trayal of her). Certainly the audi­ence doesn’t, they just want him to get busy with a ball-hammer.

What every­one — or was it just me? — wanted from Legend was a gayer ver­sion of Hardy’s best per­form­ance as Britain’s longest-serving solitary-confinement mus­cu­lar psy­cho­path in Bronson (2008) — which come to think of it was pretty gay any­way. And you do get some of that when ‘Ron’ is on cam­era: Hardy’s ‘fat poof’ is often fright­en­ingly funny.

But I put the names ‘Reggie’ and ‘Ronnie’ in quotes because at a visual level Legend isn’t about the gang­ster twins, or London in the 1960s. It’s about Tom and his very ‘hot’, very 21st Century, very nar­ciss­istic on-screen sexu­al­ity — split into two halves, mad, ugly, gay ‘Reggie’ — and straight, pretty, sym­path­etic ‘Ronnie’, which fight it out for dom­in­ance in this psy­cho cos­tume drama.

That’s why every­one talks about how ‘lahvelee’ ‘Reggie’ is. Reggie Kray cer­tainly wasn’t bad look­ing for a gang­ster, and he scrubbed up very nicely, but he was def­in­itely no Tom Hardy (and Hardy, son of South West London bohemi­ans, is def­in­itely no Cockney). It’s also why we mar­vel at how ugly Tom man­ages to make him­self as ‘Ronnie’ — so that when ‘Ronnie’ says that ‘Reggie’ got all the looks we actu­ally find ourselves agree­ing instead of laugh­ing at the in-gag.

Any film about the Krays would struggle to remain focused on the Krays with Hardy in it. He’s proper Hollywood. But with two Hardys it stands no chance — the twins, their story and the myth­o­logy end up spit-roasted by Hardy’s double-ended cha­risma and great per­form­ances (even though his ‘Ron’ did look a bit like a David Walliams char­ac­ter sometimes).

So it shouldn’t per­haps be sur­pris­ing that the ques­tions get a bit per­sonal. Hardy, 37, who is mar­ried (to a woman), fam­ously "shut down" a gay reporter at a press con­fer­ence for Legend recently when he con­tras­ted his char­ac­ter Ronnie’s open­ness about his sexu­al­ity with what he called Hardy’s "ambigu­ous sexu­al­ity" as sug­ges­ted in pre­vi­ous interviews.

"What on earth are you on about?" retor­ted Hardy, clearly annoyed, even­tu­ally cla­ri­fy­ing the ques­tion him­self: "Are you ask­ing me about my sexu­al­ity?" "Sure," replied the reporter. "Why?" asked Hardy. When no reply came, Hardy dis­missed him with a curt: "Thank you."

The inter­view the reporter had in mind was a can­did one Hardy gave a gay magazine in 2008 (to pub­li­cise RocknRolla, in which he played a gay gang­ster) where he acknow­ledged he had exper­i­mented sexu­ally with men when he was younger: “As a boy? Of course I have. I’m an actor for fuck's sake. I’m an artist. I’ve played with everything and every­one,” he said. “But I’m not into men sexu­ally. I love the form and the phys­ic­al­ity but the gay sex bit does noth­ing for me.”

After a back­lash from some of the gay com­ment­ariat to Hardy’s rather more clenched response to the 2015 press con­fer­ence prob­ings, Hardy stated:

“I’m under no oblig­a­tion to share any­thing to do with my fam­ily, my chil­dren, my sexu­al­ity — that’s nobody’s busi­ness but my own. And I don’t see how that can have any­thing to do with what I do as an actor, and it’s my own business.”

Despite the appar­ent use of his fam­ily and chil­dren as sexu­al­ity shields in that sen­tence, the gist of it is true. I also have some sym­pathy for Tom’s piqué at being asked about his "sexu­al­ity" (which always means non-heterosexuality) at a crowded press con­fer­ence, being a mar­ried Hollywood heartthrob these days. Moreover, the seven-year-old inter­view quotes from the earlier part of his career don’t actu­ally demon­strate that his own sexu­al­ity is "ambigu­ous" or that he is now hid­ing any­thing — at most he stated that he was bi-curious when younger but is no longer.

That said, Legend is a film which makes his on-screen sexu­al­ity into a busi­ness. Show busi­ness. The drama of the movie is Hardy’s bi/two-sexual cine­matic per­sonae. Legend is a bit like Top Gun, but with ‘Tom’ play­ing both Ice Man (Val Kilmer) and Maverick — where Ice Man wins (and Kelly McGillis kills herself).

‘Reggie’, Hardy’s straight half, aspires, some­what, to nor­mal­ity; ‘Ronnie,’ Hardy’s gay half, rev­els in devi­ancy and keeps drag­ging ‘Reggie’ back to the bent and crooked — and mak­ing sure they never part. That’s why Ron is por­trayed as openly — and unam­bigu­ously — homo­sexual, not inter­ested in women at all, when in fact he described him­self as bisexual (and mar­ried a woman while in prison). Reg is por­trayed as straight, when he seems to have also been bisexual, but not so openly as Ron.

Yes, sexu­al­ity is a con­fus­ing busi­ness. No won­der the movie sim­pli­fies things — just like the pop­u­lar press.

Reginald reportedly "came out" in a let­ter pub­lished shortly after his death. Here’s how it was covered in a UK tabloid the Sunday People in 2000, head­lined: ‘REGGIE KRAY CONFESSES FROM GRAVE: I AM GAY’:

GANGSTER Reggie Kray has made an amaz­ing con­fes­sion from bey­ond the grave — his hard­man image con­cealed that he was GAY.

Reggie poured out his darkest secret in a let­ter writ­ten as he faced black­mail over his homosexuality.

He handed me the aston­ish­ing two-page admis­sion in a prison vis­it­ing room and asked for it to be pub­lished after his death.

So there you have it. Reggie was a self-confessed (dead) GAY homo­sexual. Except he wasn’t. The very next sen­tence in the same report reads:

The once-feared East End crime boss wrote: “I wish for the pub­lic to know that I am bisexual.” [my emphasis]

"Gay" and "homo­sexual" are often mixed up with "bisexual" in the accounts of the twins’ lives, because cul­tur­ally we tend to mix up "gay" and "bi" when talk­ing about men. Although atti­tudes are chan­ging, we often still too often think of male bisexu­al­ity as "gay" or "homo­sexual" or "queer" (because it’s "emas­cu­lat­ing" — e.g. "once-feared"). Whereas female bisexu­al­ity tends to be thought of as het­ero­sexual (because it’s "hot," or because female sexu­al­ity is "com­plic­ated"). And as Hardy him­self has dis­covered, admit­ting to a bi-curious youth can mean that you are assumed to be at least bisexual or "ambigu­ous" in the bed­room as an adult.

I don’t claim to know any­thing about Hardy’s "real" sexu­al­ity — I’m totally out of the celebrity sex gos­sip loop, which frankly, is usu­ally myth­o­logy and fantasy any­way, even and espe­cially when provided by other celebs. Likewise, "gay­dar" is a very faulty instru­ment indeed, prone to squeal­ing feed­back and hair-raising short-circuits. (And unlike it seems almost every­one else on the planet, I have no inform­a­tion and no opin­ion on the other Hollywood Tom’s "real" sexu­al­ity either.)

Besides, a few slutty selfies aside, I’m much more inter­ested in Tom H’s on-screen sexu­al­ity. Which is radi­antly, brazenly bi-responsive. It’s not ambigu­ous — it’s ambi­sexual. Hardy’s dazzling bi-brilliance lights up the screen – it is what makes him such a cha­ris­matic, watch­able actor, in the mould, dare I say it, of some of the greats, such as James Dean and Marlon Brando (cutely, Tom is the same titchy height 5-foot-9, as Marlon).

There’s a rather ridicu­lous Romeo & Juliet scene in Legend where a drunken ‘Reggie’ pro­poses to Frances through her bed­room win­dow at the top of a drain­pipe. But thanks to Tom’s tender tal­ents, instead of scoff­ing at the chees­iness of it, you find your­self hop­ing, when the hard man fishes out the engage­ment ring, that he doesn’t fall and hurt his lahvlee face.

Regardless of his private sexu­al­ity, the "busi­ness" of Hardy’s on-screen sexu­al­ity in many of his other movies is def­in­itely not mono­sexual, depend­ing as it does on a cer­tain homoerotic-homosocial appeal, and a "hard man"/"soft man" ten­sion, andro­gyny even. In addi­tion to his early Band of Brothers/Black Hawk Down fresh-faced, all-boys-together sol­dierly roles, he’s, as we’ve seen, played a gay gang­ster before. In Inception, he psych­ic­ally "cross-dressed" and delivered some won­der­fully camp lines with pan­ache: “Mustn’t be afraid to dream a little big­ger, darling.”

In Warrior (2011), he played a heavily-muscled young MMA fighter forced to wrestle his equally fit brother in a Speedo — but with a happy end­ing. Even the bottom-feeder com­edy This Means War (2012), in which two CIA killers com­pete for the same girl, was primar­ily about the pas­sion­ately platonic romance between him and Chris Pine, an actor who seems to be 70% hair and 30% teeth. It was only Hardy’s sym­path­etic skills as an actor and his dazzling bi-brilliance that made you care about their rela­tion­ship, Pine or that atro­city of a movie at all.

Hardy has a spe­cial pro­cliv­ity for play­ing "hard men" who are soft and recept­ive inside. It’s what makes him such an entran­cing sight on the sil­ver screen, for men and women alike. It’s all there in his sweetly enga­ging face and twinkly eyes, with those big kiss­able, suck­able lips — atop his street-fighter body (young Brando had an angel’s face on a stevedore’s body). Perhaps because of his appre­ci­ation for "the form and phys­ic­al­ity" of mas­culin­ity, Tom is the kind of bloke a lot of straight lads would "go gay" for — and plenty of gay ones would go even gayer for. A man’s man in the mod­ern sense of the phrase. Hardy’s career has been made at the place where desire and iden­ti­fic­a­tion meet.

Tom Hardy

There is a magical kind of mis­recog­ni­tion involved in going to the movies: You see, espe­cially when younger, the movie star as your ideal­ized self. Your twin who is identical with what you should be, rather than what you are. In the dark­ness of the cinema, the bril­liant shadow on the screen becomes your real, long lost twin — you sit­ting in the dark are the false, found one.

Which brings us back to the sexu­al­ity of Legend and the doubly-doomed nature of the deceased wife attempted-redemption storyline. Twins are by their very nature "homo­sexual," that is "same-sexual" — at least to non-twins look­ing in. They share the same con­cep­tion, the same womb at the same time, the same birth, as wells as usu­ally the same infancy, potty-training and child­hood, and the same puberty. Intimacies far bey­ond those of lov­ers. Identical twins also reflect one another, in a nar­ciss­istic fash­ion. In a sense, they are born with the life-companion every­one else has to search for — and they can also watch them­selves star­ring in the movie of their own lives.

So no won­der the Krays’ bio­grapher recently claimed that the twins had sex with one another when adoles­cents. Or, as the Daily Mail head­line put it: ‘THEY FOUGHT AS ONE. THEY KILLED AS ONE. BUT DID THE KRAYTWIN’S UNCANNY BOND LEAD THEM TO BREAK THE ULTIMATE TABOO?’

Whether or not it’s true, it’s some­thing that should def­in­itely have been included in Legend. Tom-on-Tom action should not have been restric­ted to those fight scenes…

Read more at MarkSimpson.com. Watch the trailer for Legend below:

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