Recaps & Reviews

The True History of the Kelly Gang Makes Some Odd Choices

When you think of Westerns and outlaws, generally you think of films taking place in the United States. After all the U.S. is full of stories about anti-heroes such as Billy the Kid, Jesse James, Butch Cassidy and more, but what most people fail to remember is that the United States is not the only country ripe with such legends. In Australia one of the most famous outlaws is Ned Kelly, who fought the system throughout the 1870s and almost won before being caught and hanged. In this new film, True History of the Kelly Gang, you get a glimpse of the outlaws life, from when he was a child living in poverty to the day he paid for his transgressions.

Ned Kelly is played here by two different actors. As a child Orlando Schwerdt takes the lead, and later on it’s George MacKay. The story starts with Ned’s life as a child, growing up in poverty with his prostitute mother and his cross-dressing criminal father. He learns fairly early on that the world, especially those in charge of governing the land, is against him, and one night he sneaks out and butchers a neighbours cow so his family can eat. His father ends up taking the blame, and dies in prison, and in order to make ends meet, Ned’s mother sells him to notorious outlaw Harry Power (Russell Crowe). Power uses Ned to further his criminal ways, but their partnership is cut short after Ned is arrested and thrown in prison. Years later Ned, after being accused of attempting to murder a policeman, decides to fight against the system that treats him and his friends and family unfairly, and becomes the leader of a gang of cross-dressing outlaws that denounce the police, the Victorian government and the British Empire.

Don’t be fooled by the title, a lot of the film isn’t true at all, and the director of the film lets that be known right off the bat. The film though is based on a novel by Peter Carey, and does stay true to the overall telling of the story, hitting all the main beats of Ned Kelly’s life. After the film ends, you will want to read up on his life, and find out more about his true story. If you are curious that is. The film itself is interesting at times, but does tend to drag on, and there were some odd directorial decisions made as well. For instance, during one scene a rock song plays in the soundtrack, which feels really out of place. The acting in the film is strong though, especially MacKay, who comes out as the real star of it. Ned Kelly’s story has been told before, including the 2003 film called Ned Kelly starring Heath Ledger that is based on the same book, but this version definitely is the strongest of the bunch. 

True History of the Kelly Gang has enough going for it that it can be considered an interesting film, but it’s not really for everyone. It would be better to see a film based closer to the actual events that took place, and have the unverified legend stuff cut to more of a minimum. This film does make Ned look to be more of the cultural icon that he’s become, but how much of it is truth is anyone’s guess. 

By: Roderick Thedorff

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