True History of the Kelly Gang (July 2019 update)

Harry Power (Russell Crowe) and Ned Kelly (Orlando Schwerdt) bail up a coach. The guitar strapped to Power’s saddle could be an indication that we are in for some musical numbers from the former TOFOG frontman.

The most anticipated project at present is Justin Kurzel’s adaptation of True History of the Kelly Gang. The Booker Prize winning novel has had an awful time reaching the screen as detailed in previous articles. With this outing by the Assassin’s Creed director, there has been very little news since production wrapped in 2018. Repeated attempts by A Guide to Australian Bushranging to contact the production and distribution companies connected to the film to gain any information was been met with resounding silence. However, on 24 July we finally got a release date and the first official images from the film.

Harry Power (Russell Crowe) in a pensive moment.

According to reports, the film will premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival in September 2019. This means that it will have been over a year since production wrapped when audiences first get a chance to see it. It also means that Australian audiences will have to wait even longer to see the film, which naturally has some people scratching their heads. Whether Canadian audiences will respond to the film will be interesting to see.

The first image of Ned Kelly (George Mackay) in ‘True History of the Kelly Gang’.

Available information for the film states that it remains in post-production. For months, rumours abounded that it would premiere at Cannes, which it did not as it was not ready in time to qualify, then more recently it was speculated to be premiering at the Venice Film Festival. What is clear is that regardless of where it was to debut, it was always intended to play to international audiences at a film festival first. There is still no word on the release date for general audiences or if it will be a limited release.Oddly, the film has already been nominated for best film adaptation at the 52nd AWGIE awards, despite not having been screened or released, which begs more questions than it answers. Shaun Grant’s screenplay seems to only have one other contender – another as-yet unreleased Essie Davis vehicle in Miss Fisher and the Crypt of Tears – to duke it out with, so that remains a curiosity.

Ellen Kelly (Essie Davis) and young Ned Kelly (Orlando Schwerdt) in the Winton Wetlands, likely the location used for the Kelly homestead. The fire is unexplained.

Essie Davis, who will be playing Ellen Kelly, has mentioned the film several times in interviews about her latest project, Lambs of God. Davis in one interview talks about how a scene in THOTKG saw her thrashed about and bruised, while in another interview she talks about having to keep her hair during the making of Lambs of God because of her role as Ellen. This makes one curious as to what scene could possibly see Ellen thrashed around and beaten.

Sean Keenan poses with a replica of Joe Byrne’s armour in the Ned Kelly Vault in December 2017 [Source: The Ned Kelly Vault Facebook Page]

Another cast member that has spoken of the film in interview is Sean Keenan, who was asked about the film on The Project while promoting his stage production of Cosi. During the brief and awkward interaction Keenan described filming on the snow, Winton Wetlands and in Wangaratta. He also confirmed that he is playing Joe Byrne and that the film is a “contemporary mix” and “modern retelling” of the story.

Artwork used on sites associated with the film’s production and distribution around March appeared to depict something of a concept for the poster design. With a pink colour scheme, the only graphic was an assortment of half-naked young men holding firearms and wearing dresses or ladies underwear. None of the faces of the men Were shown, indicating that these are not the actors from the film, but rather stand-ins. It is unlikely that this will reflect the final poster design.

Sgt. O’Neil (Charlie Hunnam) in what appears to be a burnt shed. O’Neil is an incredibly minor character in the original novel from which the film gets its title, implying that the role has been expanded to suit Hunnam’s star power.

The production images are not very specific in what they depict but there are perhaps some clues as to the style of the film, it’s attitude to the source material and some of what we can expect to see in the film. It is a little strange that for a film titled True History of the Kelly Gang there are no images of the eponymous bushrangers. It is also strange that Nicholas Hoult, one of the bigger international stars in the film, is not included while two of Russell Crowe were despite the former likely having a more significant role.

Ned Kelly (Joshua Charles Dawe) and Dan Kelly (Shane Palmer) in ‘Stringybark’.

Meanwhile, Ben Head’s short feature Stringybark debuted at the Lorne Film Festival on 26 July. The film, centred around the ill-fated Mansfield party rather than the bushrangers, has had an interesting production history; starting out as a student film then getting a huge boost from crowdfunding that allowed the team to get closer to their vision. After an investor screening of the film, things went quiet while the team tried to tee up screenings. Several official photographs from the film were released as well as a trailer, giving audiences a good sense of what to expect ahead of time. Beyond its Lorne premiere there is no further word yet on when there will be other opportunities for people to see the film on the big screen or via streaming, but according to Ben Squared Films they are currently looking at independent cinema screenings in the next few months.

Matthew Holmes’ Glenrowan remains in development, but is now being pitched as a six-part mini-series, intended for streaming. This will allow the story to expand to include elements previously unable to be included due to time constraints. Whereas the original screenplay focused almost entirely on the actual siege, the expanded format will include more of the prelude and aftermath, including an entire episode to open the series based on an expanded version of the short feature screenplay Blood and Thunder, and more emphasis on Aaron Sherritt and the politics that led to the formulation of the Glenrowan plot. The new format also allows more focus to be put on the people outside of the outlaws and the police such as Ann and Jane Jones, the Kelly sisters and key sympathisers like the Lloyds and Harts. It follows the structure and content of the novel that was written parallel to the development of the initial screenplay (by yours truly) more closely than was previously possible.

Jane Jones helps some of the children escape from the beseiged Glenrowan Inn (concept art for ‘Glenrowan’ by Aidan Phelan).

As details come to hand about any films or other bushranger related productions, you will be able to find them at our Facebook page.

3 thoughts on “True History of the Kelly Gang (July 2019 update)

  1. What became of the ‘novelisation’ of Blood and Thunder that you earlier led us to believe was to be released this year? Is that still happening?

    And would you care to expand on what you mean by ‘the politics that led to the formation of the Glenrowan plot ‘ ?

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    1. The novella is still happening. As I’m sure you can appreciate, books don’t publish themselves so at this stage the exact release date is uncertain but it will be made public when those details are available.

      As for expanding on the politics, all I will say is that whenever there are people interacting there will always be politics in some form. The phrase merely refers to the interpersonal circumstances as well as wider socio-political elements that impacted on the turn of events. If you want more than that, you’ll have to wait until the mini-series is out.

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