True History of the Kelly Gang (film)

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True History of the Kelly Gang
Theatrical release poster
Directed byJustin Kurzel
Produced by
  • Liz Watts
  • Hal Vogel
  • Justin Kurzel
  • Paul Ranford
Screenplay byShaun Grant
Based onTrue History of the Kelly Gang
by Peter Carey
Music byJed Kurzel
CinematographyAri Wegner
Edited byNick Fenton
Distributed by
Release date
  • 11 September 2019 (2019-09-11) (TIFF)
  • 9 January 2020 (2020-01-09) (Australia)
  • 28 February 2020 (2020-02-28) (United Kingdom)
  • 24 April 2020 (2020-04-24) (United States)
Running time
124 minutes [1]
  • United Kingdom
  • Australia
Box office$446,177 (theatrical), and $457,627 (home market)[2]

True History of the Kelly Gang is a 2019 bushranger film directed by Justin Kurzel, written by Shaun Grant, and based upon the 2000 novel of the same name by Peter Carey. A fictionalised account of the life of bushranger and outlaw Ned Kelly, the film stars George MacKay, Essie Davis, Nicholas Hoult, Charlie Hunnam and Russell Crowe.

It had its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival on 11 September 2019. It was released in Australia on Australia Day 2020, by Transmission Films and Stan, in the United Kingdom on 28 February 2020, by Picturehouse Entertainment, and in the United States on 24 April 2020, by IFC Films.

The film received criticism that the lead actor (MacKay) had been miscast, since he appeared too boyish and lanky to be believable as the tough and masculine Ned Kelly.


Based on Peter Carey's novel, the film is a highly-fictionalised account of the life of Australian bushranger Ned Kelly and his gang as they flee from authorities during the 1870s.

Ned Kelly's father, John "Red" Kelly (Gentle Ben Corbett), an Irishman transported to a prison colony in Van Diemen's Land, settles eventually in the colony of Victoria, Australia. After marrying Ned's mother Ellen (Essie Davis), the Kellys settle in a rural area northeast of Melbourne. Red Kelly has numerous brushes with the colonial police forces, resulting in his imprisonment and death when his son Ned (Orlando Schwerdt) is twelve years old. Ned is a courageous and compassionate boy, in one instance jumping into a river to save another boy from drowning. Ned is shocked when he finds evidence that his father has been cross-dressing.

Ned's mother attempts to provide for her children by running a shebeen, providing sexual favors to Sergeant O'Neill (Charlie Hunnam), and taking on a series of lovers, including the notorious bushranger Harry Power (Russell Crowe). Power pays Ned's mother for him to take on young Ned as an apprentice. Power provides Ned with knowledge of the land, hideouts, and strategies for bushranging. After Ned refuses to kill Sergeant O'Neill, despite Power ordering him to do so, Ned leaves Power and returns to his family's settlement, infuriated when he discovers that his mother essentially "sold" him to Power. Ned attempts to live honestly, but is arrested and sentenced to three years in prison for receiving a stolen horse. After his eventual release, Ned (now played by George MacKay) returns to his mother's house as a young man in his late teens.

During a visit to a brothel to return dresses stolen by his younger brother Dan (Earl Cave) and Dan's friend, Ned meets a prostitute who is a young Irish girl named Mary (Thomasin McKenzie), falls in love with her and begins his first sexual relationship. Ned eventually becomes an outlaw after a visit from a local police officer, Constable Fitzpatrick (Nicholas Hoult), to the Kelly family. The policeman woos Ned's younger sister Kate, prompting Ned to reveal that Fitzpatrick has multiple mistresses in other towns and has no intention of marrying Kate. After his mother Ellen threatens the constable with violence, Fitzpatrick pulls his revolver on the family and Ned shoots him in the hand in self-defense. Warrants for the arrest of Ned and his younger brother Dan are issued.

Ned and Dan hide out in the hills of northeast Victoria, joined by their friends Steve Hart (Louis Hewison) and Ned's close mate Joe Byrne (Sean Keenan). They later become known as the Kelly Gang. Kelly's mother is arrested along with her baby daughter and imprisoned in Melbourne as enticement for Ned to give himself up. Ned finds and kills Constable Fitzpatrick. Four policemen are sent to kill the Gang after efforts to arrest them prove unsuccessful. The Gang ambushes them at Stringybark Creek, where Ned kills three of the policemen in self-defense.

In time, the Gang is discovered to be in the town of Glenrowan where they took numerous hostages and constructed several suits of plate-steel armour for protection. One of the hostages is the crippled local schoolmaster (Jacob Collins-Levy), who encourages Ned to relate the story of his life after seeing samples of Ned's writing. The schoolmaster betrays the Gang by warning the incoming police train that the young men sabotaged the tracks. The policemen surround the inn where the Gang is hiding and in a series of striking, hallucinogenic scenes, engage in a furious shootout, seriously wounding the armour-clad Ned and killing the other three members of the Gang. The twenty-five year old Ned is convicted of murdering one of the policemen at Stringybark Creek, and is hanged at Old Melbourne Gaol after his mother sees him a final time and urges him to "die like a Kelly."

There are some significant departures from Carey's novel. In the film, the entire Gang cross-dresses to confuse the police, while in the novel only Dan and Steve, the two youngest members of the Gang, wear dresses. The film projects an emphatic Oedipal relationship between Ned and his mother. It also hints at sexual contact between Ned and his mate Joe Byrne, although the physical affection between the two young men could also be interpreted simply as a manifestation of adolescent male friendship.

The actor George MacKay, who appears as a clean-shaven, very slim, blond, adult Ned Kelly, does not physically resemble the historical Kelly who was burly, bearded, and dark-haired. The film also unaccountably has MacKay frequently shirtless, something not described in the novel.



Director Justin Kurzel mentioned he was developing the film in December 2016 while doing press for Assassin's Creed.[3]

In November 2017, the project was officially announced, with George MacKay cast as Ned Kelly, and Russell Crowe, Nicholas Hoult and Essie Davis making up the supporting cast. Filming was announced as beginning in March 2018 in Victoria, Australia.[4][5] By April, the film's production start was shifted to July.[6] Production started on 22 July.[7][8] It was revealed in September that Charlie Hunnam was cast in the film.[9]


The film premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival on 11 September 2019, and was released in Australian cinemas in 2020 by Transmission Films.[10] Australian streaming rights were acquired by Stan, which released the film on their service as a Stan original.[11] The film was given a limited release in Australian cinemas 9 January 2020[12] with planned wide release on Stan on Australia Day, 26 January 2020.[13]

Picturehouse Entertainment scheduled release of the film theatrically in the UK and Ireland starting 28 February 2020.[14][15]

In September 2019, IFC Films acquired U.S. distribution rights to the film.[16] It was released on 24 April 2020.[17] and was number 1 at the box office.[18]


On Rotten Tomatoes, True History of the Kelly Gang holds an approval rating of 79% based on 145 reviews, with an average rating of 6.89/10. The site's critical consensus reads: "Its unusual approach won't be for all viewers, but True History of the Kelly Gang takes a distinctively postmodern look at Australia's past."[19] On Metacritic, the film has a weighted average score of 75 out of 100, based on 27 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews".[20]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "The True History of the Kelly Gang". Toronto International Film Festival. Retrieved 22 November 2019.
  2. ^ "True History of the Kelly Gang (2020)". The Numbers. Retrieved 27 June 2020.
  3. ^ Leane, Rob (27 December 2016). "Justin Kurzel interview: Assassin's Creed". Retrieved 24 August 2018.
  4. ^ N'Duka, Amanda (6 November 2017). "Russell Crowe, George MacKay To Star In 'True History Of The Kelly Gang' From Director Justin Kurzel". Deadline Hollywood. Penske Business Media, LLC. Retrieved 24 August 2018.
  5. ^ McNary, Dave (6 November 2017). "Russell Crowe, Nicholas Hoult, George MacKay Join 'True History of the Kelly Gang'". Variety. Penske Business Media, LLC. Retrieved 24 August 2018.
  6. ^ Keslassy, Elsa (30 April 2018). "Memento Films International Boards Justin Kurzel's 'True History of the Kelly Gang' With Russell Crowe". Variety. Penske Business Media, LLC. Retrieved 24 August 2018.
  7. ^ The Fleming Agency [@flemingagent] (22 July 2018). "Shooting starts today on True History of the Kelly Gang, screenplay by award winning writer, TFA's Shaun Grant starring George MacKay, Russell Crowe, Essie Davis & Nicholas Hoult #featurefilm #truehistoryofthekellygang #australiansinfilm #screenplay #writer" (Tweet). Retrieved 24 August 2018 – via Twitter.
  8. ^ World Entertainment News Network (23 July 2018). "Russell Crowe posts bizarre Instagram video, fans ask 'what happened with you?'". Postmedia Network Inc. Retrieved 24 August 2018.
  9. ^ Keslassy, Elsa (6 September 2018). "Charlie Hunnam Joins Cast of Justin Kurzel's 'True History of The Kelly Gang'". Variety. Penske Business Media, LLC. Retrieved 6 September 2018.
  10. ^ Groves, Don (9 August 2019). "Justin Kurzel to direct TV drama series for Apple". Inside Film. Retrieved 27 August 2019.
  11. ^ Groves, Don (4 October 2019). "Stan boards Justin Kurzel's 'True History of the Kelly Gang'". Inside Film. Retrieved 4 October 2019.
  12. ^ Bradley, D.M. (13 January 2020). "Film Review: True History of the Kelly Gang". Adelaide Review.
  13. ^ Groves, Don (18 November 2019). "Short theatrical window for 'True History of the Kelly Gang'". Inside Film. Retrieved 18 November 2019.
  14. ^ Dalton, Ben (21 November 2019). "Picturehouse Entertainment takes 'True History Of The Kelly Gang' for UK & Ireland". Screen Daily. Retrieved 21 November 2019.
  15. ^ "Justin Kurzel's TRUE HISTORY OF THE KELLY GANG in cinemas 28 February 2020". Retrieved 26 November 2019.
  16. ^ Siegel, Tatiana (5 September 2019). "Toronto: Russell Crowe Drama 'True History of the Kelly Gang' Nabbed by IFC". Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved 5 September 2019.
  17. ^ "True History of the Kelly Gang". IFC Films. Retrieved 15 January 2020.
  18. ^ "Lowest Grossing No 1. Movies on the Domestic Box Office Chart". The Numbers.
  19. ^ "True History of the Kelly Gang (2019)". Rotten Tomatoes. Fandango. Retrieved 14 January 2020.
  20. ^ "True History of the Kelly Gang reviews". Metacritic. CBS Interactive. Retrieved 6 October 2019.

External links[edit]