• Libby Briggs

True History of the Kelly Gang review – the legendary outlaws of the Outback


The 19th-century Australian outlaw Ned Kelly is infamous in his home country as a symbol of oppression by the hands of the English. Based on the novel written by Peter Carey, Justin Kurzel adds a daring, punk theme to this adaptation, bringing a thrilling and violent tale to life.

True History of the Kelly Gang, like the book it’s based on, is split into three parts: boy, man, and monitor. What we see of young Ned Kelly (Orlando Schwerdt) is his childhood innocence being torn away from as he sees a worrisome amount of violence and sex. No doubt we understand Ned grows up too fast, but the introduction to the life and legacy of the leading bandit is rushed and ends abruptly after he shoots, but refuses to kill, the heinous and corrupt Sergeant O’Neill (Charlie Hunnum).

Young Ned Kelly (Orlando Schwerdt) and his mother (Essie Davis)

No doubt the danger and enthralling chaos make many scenes in this film stand out more than others, but it should be noted that much of the dialogue spoken as Ned retells the life of himself and the Kelly gang to his daughter is poetic and memorable. “A man can never outrun his fate, nor the crimes of his past.” The ‘man’ now remarks of his childhood. George MacKay portrays the adult version of Ned and transforms himself into almost a rock ‘n’ roll star, complete with a deviant swagger. The bond he has with his mother, played by The Babadook’s Essie Davis, is a strange, but unique one. Add in the frilly dresses and homoerotic undertone between Ned and his best friend and the Ned Kelly he claims he was destined to be is far from the masculine man one might have imagined.

"Nothing scares a man like crazy."

True History of the Kelly Gang starts short and sweet. There isn’t enough ground covered before we meet who the young Ned Kelly grows up to be, but the final fight separates Ned Kelly and his gang from all other outlaws. A shoot-out scene with an unsettling strobe and accompanying music is the pivotal point of defiance and rebellion, without masking its true brutality. The motivation and passion of such a historic icon is represented fiercely and Justin Kurzel certainly makes a star out of him.

Images courtesy of Picturehouse Entertainment

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