If you drop into your local cinema expecting a true to life biography of
the famous Australian outlaw Ned Kelly you’re in for a surprise as the
first thing director Justin Kurzel brings to screen is a caption that reads
“This is not based on a true story”.
Told with a degree of artistic licence Kurzel’s movie is split into three
The first act titled “Boy” sets the background story of how a young 12 year
old Ned (an excellent debut performance from a young Orlando Schwerdt) is
introduced to a life of crime when his mother (Essie Davis) sells him to a
vicious bushranger called Harry Power (Russell Crowe).
The first part of Ned Kelly’s story is without doubt the most satisfying as
it sticks most closely to a good old fashioned western. It also benefits
from the presence of Crowe, who is wonderful, and Charlie Hunnam who plays
Sergeant O’Neil, an outback policeman whose sole purpose in life is to make
the Kelly family’s life a misery.
The middle act, and the slowest in terms of the story, is called “Man”.
It’s in this section where Kurzel starts to explore the relationship
between, a now grown up Kelly (George MacKay) and his mother. It’s also at
this point where Kelly encounters a new nemesis in Constable Fitzpatrick
Things up until this point all seem pretty normal then for some strange
reason Kurzel makes the somewhat bizarre decision to have Kelly and his
gang carry out their crimes dressed in full length dresses, quite why I
don’t know, but it adds a level of strangeness to the whole proceedings as
Kelly and his gang ride their horses and carry out their crimes dressed in
suspender belts and sequenced gowns.
The movie picks up in the final third, in the section called “Monitor”, as
Kelly and his gang, still dressed to impress in their flowing ball gowns,
head for a final showdown with the law.
The True History Of The Kelly Gang, with its strange mixture of arthouse
cinema and its more common western themes, won’t be to everyone’s liking.
If you do go and see it just remember “This is not based on a true story” and enjoy if for the part fantasy that it's meant to be.