Film Review: True History of The Kelly Gang (NZIFF)

True History of The Kelly Gang is definitely NOT as advertised as it is a very fictionalised account of the life and times of legendary Australian bush-ranger Ned Kelly. That said, it IS one eye-popping, wild tale of what might have been… in another universe…

Director: Justin Kurzel
Starring: George Mackay, Essie Davis, Russell Crowe, Marlon Williams

Of course Ned has been depicted in film before, most notably back in 1970 when he was portrayed by none other than Mick Jagger in Tony Richardson’s Ned Kelly.

This time around the director is Aussie Justin Kurzel and 28 year old George MacKay.

Both display their talents admirably, but the first thing one notices about the film is the beautiful cinematography. The Australian outback of the 1870 never looked better.

Divide into roughly three segments…childhood, adulthood and the end…the film follows Ned through is his very tough childhood, an experience that would turn him into one of Australia’s most notorious criminals.

Just as important in his formative (and even later) is his mother Ellen played by Essie Davis. Dear mum is supporting the family alone by any means necessary, usually on her knees.

So while she’s willing to do anything to put food on the table for her children, she eventually sells young Ned to Harry Power (a nearly unrecognisable Russell Crowe) who teaches the lad the ways of the outback.

When Ned returns, he seems to accept what his mother did and they are closer than ever.

In fact that closeness seems to border on something more as do many of the relationships in the film whether they be boy/girl, boy/boy or girl/girl. While it never goes full Brokeback Mountain, there are some interesting cuddles happening. As far as the women go, they seem to be forever falling pregnant, especially young Mary (Thomazin McKenzie) who has trouble keeping track of who fathered whom.

Chances are one of them was George King, Ellen’s current beau, played by Marlon Williams, who turns in a stellar performance as a an American cow-poke and even gets a chance to sing a bit.

Stylistically and thematically the film is all over the place having been compared to everything from A Clockwork Orange to Rebel Without A Cause. Those Clockwork comparisons probably coming from the scenes in which Kelly’s gang is dressed alternatively in women’s frocks and home-made metal armour.

You won’t learn much of the True facts of Ned Kelly’s life here, but you will be entertained. In the immortal last words of Ned Kelly, “Such is life.”

True History of The Kelly Gang is part of the NZ International Film Festival. It is screening in select cinemas and venues across the country and is available to view on line. To view or purchase tickets, please go here:

Marty Duda