Review: True History of the Kelly Gang

Cinema Australia Original Content:

(R-L) George MacKay, Earl Cave, Sean Keenan and Louis Hewison in True History of the Kelly Gang.

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True History of the Kelly Gang

Directed by Justin Kurzel
Written by Shaun Grant
Produced by Justin Kurzel, Paul Ranford, Hal Vogel and Liz Watts
Starring George MacKay, Essie Davis, Nicholas Hoult, Orlando Schwerdt, Thomasin McKenzie, Sean Keenan, Earl Cave, Marlon Williams, Louis Hewison, Charlie Hunnam and Russell Crowe

“George MacKay excels as Kelly, while Essie Davis gives her most daring performance since The Babadook.”


Peter Carey’s epic, Booker Prize-winning reimagining of the Ned Kelly legend is given a rock star makeover in Justin Kurzel’s psychedelic screen adaptation, and the result is an energetic, geniously executed piece of experimental cinema.

True History of the Kelly Gang explores themes of good and evil, maternal bonds, toxic masculinity and societies fear of mental illness across three chapters of Kelly’s life; boy, man and monitor. Know this though: nothing you will see in True History of the Kelly Gang is true. While Carey’s novel turns the infamous antihero’s famed history on its head, Kurzel and Snowtown screenwriter Shaun Grant go one step further by pumping it full of hallucinatory substance.  

Kurzel’s Kelly (George MacKay) is a loose unit compared to Carey’s more composed, well-mannered interpretation. He sports a mullet, is impeccably dressed in either a bright red shirt with moleskin jeans or a black lacy number, and is clean shaven giving him a youthful look throughout. Speaking of outfits, wannabe costume designers will get a kick out of the Joe Byrne (Sean Keenan) character who rocks a muddy pair of boots, stubbies and a woolen jacket with cowboy illustrations. Fun.

This final shootout is haunting cinema.

Almost every scene in True History of the Kelly Gang is visually stunning, especially the uniquely lit nighttime horse riding shots. Some strobe lighting is jarring, and those with strong reactions to flashing lights should be warned. All of this adds to the dramatic mood of the entire film as it leads towards Kelly’s inevitable demise. The final Glenrowan showdown between the ballsy bushranger and the Victorian police is truly frightening and hauntingly captured. This breathtaking scene is one of the most violent and intense shootouts you’re likely to see in an Australian film ever.  

All biopics are guilty of dismissing vital historical accuracies, and that’s exactly what makes True History of the Kelly Gang the most exciting Ned Kelly film yet. Also contributing to that excitement is Kurzel’s unique vision combined with an extraordinary cast ensemble including Russel Crowe as a guitar playing Harry Power and Nicholas Hoult as the unhinged Constable Fitzpatrick. British actor George MacKay (who’s father is from Adelaide) excels as Kelly, while Essie Davis gives her most daring performance since The Babadook.

Audiences should be thankful we were given this thrilling, unconventional look at Ned Kelly’s exploits and not another tedious cash grab.

True History of the Kelly Gang will enjoy a limited run in cinemas across Australia from January 9  before dropping on Stan. on January 26.

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