27 February 2020, The Tablet

From gangster to folk hero


 

True History of the Kelly Gang
Director: Justin Kurzel

A feral enchantment lights up this strange outback western, based on the Booker Prize-winning novel by Peter Carey which purports to be the confessions of the nineteenth-century Australian outlaw, Ned Kelly. Virtually the only thing non-Australians know about Kelly is that he went about his criminal business encased in steel armour and helmet, an image vividly immortalised in Sidney Nolan’s series of paintings. 

This film by Justin Kurzel and screenwriter Shaun Grant follows Carey’s attempt to overturn history’s conception of the man as a cold-eyed killer: their Ned Kelly is a folk hero and freedom fighter, a defiant exemplar of Irish cussedness in the face of colonial wrongdoing. We see this spirit in him as a boy (Orlando Schwerdt) whose blondly angelic aspect contrasts with his harsh rural upbringing, ruled over by his fearsome mother (Essie Davis) and haunted by a drunken ineffectual father.

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