Nothing in this true history of Ned Kelly (George MacKay) is true, none of it happened, so you had better forget the facts right now. Kelly was a nineteenth century outlaw in Australia who became one of the most famous men ever to emerge from that continent, but how did this all begin? What were his early years like? When he was a boy (Orlando Schwerdt), he was aware his mother Ellen (Essie Davis) was a prostitute because he used to spy on her with her clients, one of those being the local police Sergeant O'Neil (Charlie Hunnam) who made a point of looking out for the child, though his concern, possibly entirely self-centred, was not reciprocated by Ned, who was on the path to crime...
Ned Kelly was of course the subject of the very first feature film back in 1906, where an Australian outfit decided to use his tale of fame, some say infamy, as the basis for a newsreel-style recreation of his endeavours. That film was around an hour long and only exists now in fragments, but many more movies and television shows have stepped in to recreate the story which is part of Aussie pride for many, though not without controversy. It's true that Kelly was keen to promote his own myth in his lifetime, but nobody can make up their minds whether he was a fighter against the oppressive British Empire, or an opportunist who used his nationalism as an excuse to murder and pillage the land.
It could be he was both, the answer you get is different depending on who you talk to, but in the main the movies have taken Ned's side, it makes for a better and more patriotic set of circumstances. For this non-true "True History", there were revisions, however, as director Justin Kurzel took his cue from Peter Carey's novel, one which mixed fact and legend to get at some inner integrity to the account, and went even wilder with it, leaving many Australians outraged at its suggestion that Ned may have been non-heterosexual, among other fanciful elements this stirred into the pot. There was no evidence that he was, it had certainly not been brought up before, but here we were.
Kurzel also portrayed his gang as cross-dressers, which was the final straw for those dyed in the wool larrikins who were puce with anger at this effort's existence: basically it was regarded as a film where the most celebrated bad guys who were actually good guys in their nation's history were depicted as a bunch of... well, you can imagine the invective. But really, the loose approach to gender was one of the least of the production's problems, for it was almost comically hard to like, with everyone in it hysterical, screaming and violent and utterly resistible. Russell Crowe popped up in the first half to teach the Kelly kids expletive-strewn folk songs, then to guide Ned in the ways of criminality though casually, brutally murderous demonstration, and he was one of the nicer characters.
The effect of watching this Ned Kelly yarn was of two hours of hearing your neighbours have a yelling match through the wall, but only having a vague idea of what the problem was since their screeching was well nigh incoherent. Time and again Ned (MacKay obviously having been in the gym a number more times than the man he played - and at the hair salon too, to get rid of that beard) got into shouting and grunting arguments with the unpleasant authorities (Nicholas Hoult showed up latterly to cause trouble and possibly lust after the lean body of Ned's) or his fellow Australians, and after about ten minutes of this you were wishing it would stop. It is difficult to imagine a worse Ned Kelly movie than the 1970 Mick Jagger fiasco, but Kurzel and his team appeared determined to beat that goal, with its macho xenophobia undercut by the gentler side of savagery and a confused message about what to take away from having this guy (or someone like him) as your national hero. Either way, not a happy experience. Music by Jed Kurzel.