The Legend of Ben Hall
|The Legend of Ben Hall|
Theatrical film poster
|Directed by||Matthew Holmes|
|Written by||Matthew Holmes|
|Based on||Ben Hall|
|Music by||Ronnie Minder|
|Edited by||Caitlin Spiller|
The Legend of Ben Hall is a 2016 Australian Revisionist Western film. Written and directed by Matthew Holmes, it is based on the exploits of bushranger Ben Hall and his gang. The film stars Jack Martin in the title role, Jamie Coffa as John Gilbert, and William Lee as John Dunn.
Holmes' goal with The Legend of Ben Hall was to produce an historically accurate film that focuses on the last nine months of Hall's life, when he was a well-established bushranger along with his accomplices Gilbert and Dunn. It explores the relationships within the gang and depicts many of their robberies and clashes with the police. The film also explores the details surrounding Hall's betrayal and his controversial death at the hands of the police on 5 May 1865.
After two years on the road and with the law closing in around him, Ben Hall has gone in hiding and is considering surrender. However, he is drawn back into bushranging by the reappearance of his old friend and gang member, John Gilbert. Reforming the gang with a new recruit John Dunn, the trio soon become the most wanted men in Australian history after a series of robberies that result in the death of two policemen. Ben Hall also struggles to reconcile himself with his estranged son now living with his ex-wife and the man she eloped with many years earlier. When the Government moves to declare the gang outlaws, the gang make plans to flee the colony, but they are sold out by a trusted friend.
- Jack Martin as Ben Hall
- Jamie Coffa as John Gilbert
- William Lee as John Dunn
- Joanne Dobbin as Biddy Hall
- Adam Willson as Mick Coneley
- Callan McAuliffe as Daniel Ryan
- Arthur Angel as Edward Morriss
- Andy McPhee as James 'Old Man' Gordon
- Erica Field as Mary Ann Coneley
- Lauren Grimson as Christina McKinnon
- PiaGrace Moon as Peggy Monks
- Lauren Gregory as Ellen Monks
- Jordan Fraser-Trumble as Sub-Inspector James Davidson
- Gregory Quinn as Sergeant James Condell
- John Orcsik as John Kelly
Production for The Legend of Ben Hall began in Melbourne in February 2015. Principal photography started on 29 March in Lauriston in regional Victoria and continued for over four weeks.  Other locations included Nulla Vale, Spring Hill, Trentham and Maldon. Because the story in set in New South Wales, locations were selected to accurately represent various regions in New South Wales connected to the Ben Hall story, such as Forbes, Jugiong, Binalong and the Araluen Valley. Some scenes were filmed in New South Wales around Forbes and Jugiong.
Outdoor sets were constructed around the Lauriston area by Production Designer Das Patterson. The production also recycled existing film sets from previous film productions, such as The Man From Snowy River, which was also used in the American western television series Ponderosa. The now defunct Porcupine Historical Village at Maldon was also used for various indoor and outdoor scenes. Filming moved to the Melbourne Docklands Studios in May for another two weeks. The film's post production was completed in Melbourne on May 5, 2016, which coincided with the 151 year anniversary of shooting of Ben Hall at Billabong Creek on May 5, 1865.
Short film origin
American production company Palmarium LLC joined the project as producers, as did filmmaker Jessica Pearce, who stepped up from production manager to producer as the film geared up for filming. Victorian financier Ross Angelo also joined as a producer.
The production filmed for three weeks in August–September 2014. Locations included Lauriston, Trentham and Spring Hill in Victoria, as well as Jugoing and Forbes in New South Wales. The short film was financially supported by the Forbes Shire Council who believed in the film's potential to boost and promote tourism in the Forbes area due to its affiliation with Ben Hall history.
The project was picked up by Fox Studios Australia based producer Russell Cunningham from RLC Motion Picture Entertainment and Michael Favelle from Odin's Eye Entertainment, who came on board to develop the project as a full-length feature. The script was expanded with new characters and events so that the scenes already shot for the short film could be integrated into the feature. All of the short film cast reprised their roles, as did most of the film crew.
Writer-director Matthew Holmes made a determined effort to make the film as historically accurate as possible. Holmes worked closely with New South Wales historian and author Peter Bradley since 2007, who acted as an historical advisor on the script to ensure the film's accurate portrayal of events. Peter Bradley is a descendant of Ben Hall's younger brother, Henry Hall. Much of the dialogue used by Ben Hall, John Gilbert and John Dunn in the film comes directly from newspaper articles and eye-witness accounts. The film's story is based on real life events that occurred between August 1864 and May 1865.
Cast members were chosen to physically resemble their historical counterparts, with their personalities, wardrobe and hair based on descriptions or photographs of the real person.
The Legend of Ben Hall premiered in Forbes, New South Wales on November 12, 2016 at the Forbes Showgrounds. Almost 800 people attended the premiere. Forbes was chosen due to its historical affiliation with the outlaw and because the Forbes Shire Council had supported the project in its crowdfunding stage. The Forbes showgrounds are less than a kilometer from where Ben Hall is buried in the Forbes cemetery. The premiere was followed by an extensive two week regional and metro tour throughout New South Wales, Queensland, Victoria and South Australia.
The Legend of Ben Hall had a limited theatrical release in Australia on December 2016. It was released on DVD, Blu-Ray and digital platforms on March 2nd 2017. Distribution rights were picked up by Vega Baby for an August 1, 2017 release in North America. The film was also released in Germany in early 2017. It was to be released in the UK and Ireland on DVD by High Fliers Films PLC on July 2. Both the North American Blu-Ray release and the Australian Blu-Ray release feature the 90-minute documentary Stand & Deliver: Making The Legend of Ben Hall, an in-depth look at how the film was conceived and its journey to completion.
The Legend of Ben Hall received positive to mixed reviews. As of October 2017, it holds an average Critical Score of 6.1 out of 10 and an Audience Score of 4.2 out of 5 on Rotten Tomatoes.
Awards and festivals
Since its debut in 2016, The Legend of Ben Hall has won the following awards:
- Australian Screen Industry Network Awards 2017 "Best Film", "Best Actor (Jack Martin), "Best Actress" (Joanne Dobbin), "Best Director (Matthew Holmes), "Best Cinematography" (Peter Szilveszter) and "Best Composer" (Ronnie Minder)
- The Wild Bunch Film Festival 2017 "Festival Director's Choice', "Best Cinematography" (Peter Szilveszter), "Best Supporting Actress" (Lauren Grimson)
- 50th Annual WorldFest Houston International Film Festival 2017 "Platinum Remi Award - Western", "Best Supporting Actor" (William Lee)
- Oniros Film Awards - July 2017 "Best Feature", "Best Director" (Matthew Holmes), "Best Costumes" (Michael Chisholm), "Best Original Soundtrack" (Ronnie Minder)
- True West Magazine "Best Foreign Western 2017"
- Australian Cinematographers Society - Queensland "Bronze Award" (Peter Szilveszter)
- Cinema Australia "Audience Award 2016"
The Legend of Ben Hall participated in the following film festivals:
- 50th Annual WorldFest Houston International Film Festival 2017, USA
- 19th Rencontres Internationales Du Cinema Des Antipodes Saint-Tropez 2017, France
- The Wild Bunch Film Festival 2017, USA
- Vilmos Zsigmond Film Festival 2017, Hungary
- Made in Melbourne Film Festival 2016, Australia
- MonsterFest 2016, Australia
- 7º Almeria Western Film Festival 2017, Spain
- Taoyuan Film Festival 2017, Taiwan
- Great Barrier Reef Film Festival 2017, Australia
- Vision Splendid Outback Film Festival 2017, Australia
- OzFlix Independent Film Awards 2018, Australia
- Rome Independent Cinema Festival 2018, Italy - Nominated for 'Best Foreign Film'
Not long after its release, it was announced that the screenplays for a planned trilogy about bushranging in News South Wales had been written and were in the process of raising funds. Going under the umbrella title of The Legends Anthology, the next two films will be prequels/companion pieces to the Ben Hall story that follow the criminal careers of Hall's former accomplices, Frank Gardiner and John Vane. Actors Jack Martin, Jamie Coffa, Joanne Dobbin, Jordan Fraser-Trumble, Gregory Quinn, Nick Barry and many others are set to reprise their roles in the new films The Legend of Frank Gardiner and The Legend of John Vane which are currently seeking financial investment.
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