History is full of figures who have fought institutionalised oppression by breaking laws, and even taking lives only to become legends of folklore. Whether they be Dick Turpin or Jesse James, those who target the very foundations of a countries inequality. Often find themselves raised onto pedestals mixing truth with fantasy long after their death. In Australia, Ned Kelly and The Kelly Gang, have become a part of the countries turbulent formation. Reflecting both the anger and oppression that swirled around the birth of Australia under colonial rule. And the rebellion and anger downtrodden communities and individuals could only attempt to wield in the face of Empire.
However, despite the folklore surrounding Ned’s short-lived life; his last breath taken at the tender age of 25. The story of Ned and The Kelly Gang has also sparked heated debate in Australia, on whether someone who murdered and robbed others should ever be celebrated. And alongside this, film has equally struggled to disentangle the Ned Kelly story. Often bouncing between portraying a people’s champion and a violent outlaw. With both the 1970 Ned Kelly staring Mick Jagger and the Heath Ledger 2003 film of the same name, struggling to define a complicated character surrounded by legend.
However, with Justin Kurzel’s new film ‘True History of the Kelly Gang’, based on the award winning novel of the same name. We finally receive a character study rooted in the dirt, grim, abuse and mental volatility of a damaged young man. With a film that never knowingly taking sides on the social debates surrounding Ned Kelly and his gang. While equally reflecting the brutality of a newly emerging country under colonial rule. Often echoing the horror and lawlessness of Jennifer Kent’s The Nightingale, especially within the first half of the story.
It is important to state at this point, that like all films or stories based on the life of Kelly. The word true is to be taken lightly, something made clear in the films opening scenes. And while we find familiar ground retraced within the films narrative based on the known facts. This is a film that also subverts many of the traditional stories surrounding Ned and his gang. Lacing its narrative with the hormonal energy of youthful rebellion. While equally embracing the spirit of 70s and early 80s punk culture in challenging patriarchy and establishment norms.
Director: Justin Kurzel
Watch True History of the Kelly Gang on Amazon Prime now
Read the book here