True History of the Kelly Gang review – rock’n’roll makeover of an Aussie outlaw

Director Justin Kurzel toys with Ned Kelly’s macho reputation in this swaggering adaptation of Peter Carey’s novel

The 19th-century Australian outlaw Ned Kelly is given a rock’n’roll makeover in Justin Kurzel’s swaggering, defiantly ahistorical drama. Based on Peter Carey’s 2001 Booker prize-winning novel, it splits Kelly’s story into three parts: “Boy”, “Man” and “Monitor”, the third chapter referring to his time as a self-appointed bush ranger. Orlando Schwerdt plays the young Kelly, innocence soured having seen too much, while British actor George MacKay is his unruly adult counterpart.

Kurzel begins the film with an image of Kelly writing a letter to his unborn child (it was a myth that Kelly was illiterate). “Every man should be the author of his own history,” instructs his mentor, Harry Power (Russell Crowe). And so the Adelaide-born Kurzel playfully rewrites one of his country’s most persistent cultural figures, adding a homoerotic subtext that undermines the idea of Kelly as a macho folk hero. This Kelly is motivated by an oedipal complex and wears dresses to distract his opponents; The Babadook’s Essie Davis is equal parts fearsome and magnetic as his enterprising sex worker mother. More enjoyable still are the film’s corrupt policemen; the louche, stockinged, pipe-smoking Constable Fitzpatrick (Nicholas Hoult) and virile cartoon villain Sergeant O’Neil (Charlie Hunnam).

Watch the trailer for True History of the Kelly Gang.

Contributor

Simran Hans

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Black review – unflinching gang culture drama
A disturbing depiction of the misogynist world of Brussels gangs

Wendy Ide

21, Aug, 2016 @7:00 AM

Article image
Rams review – Aussie remake of a dour Icelandic delight
Sam Neill and Michael Caton star as the feuding, sheep-farming brothers in this sunny repurposing of Grímur Hákonarson’s 2015 hit black comedy

Wendy Ide

06, Feb, 2021 @3:00 PM

Article image
Ash Is Purest White review – epic outlaw romance in a changing China
A resilient gangster’s moll burns with misguided love in Jia Zhangke’s melancholy drama

Simran Hans

28, Apr, 2019 @6:59 AM

Article image
True Mothers review – tender Japanese adoption drama
An adoptive mother is confronted by a woman claiming to be her son’s biological mother in this compassionate tale told from both sides

Simran Hans

18, Apr, 2021 @10:00 AM

Article image
Certain Women review: Kelly Reichardt fashions a minor miracle
These subtle and intimate small-town stories starring Michelle Williams and Kristen Stewart add up to an unassuming masterpiece

Wendy Ide

05, Mar, 2017 @8:00 AM

Article image
Puzzle review – Kelly Macdonald excels in gentle jigsaw drama
Little Miss Sunshine producer Marc Turtletaub directs a warm-hearted film full of carefully observed detail

Wendy Ide

09, Sep, 2018 @7:00 AM

Article image
Starfish review – a true story of disease and domestic struggle
Though intimate and well-meaning, a young father’s shocking ordeal after being struck with sepsis is tough to watch, and more suited to TV than cinema

Wendy Ide

30, Oct, 2016 @7:00 AM

Article image
The Whalebone Box review – so strange it must be true
The tale of a quest to return an artwork to the Outer Hebrides after 30 years is unexpectedly compelling

Mark Kermode

05, Apr, 2020 @7:00 AM

Article image
Loving review – a marriage that changed history
Ruth Negga and Joel Edgerton star as an interracial couple in 1950s Virginia in Jeff Nichols’s wonderful true-life drama

Wendy Ide

05, Feb, 2017 @8:00 AM

Article image
The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind review – inspiring true story
Chiwetel Ejiofor’s directorial debut about a boy in Malawi who builds a wind turbine has the feelgood factor

Wendy Ide

24, Feb, 2019 @6:59 AM