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The Five Best Films Based on the Life of Ned Kelly

True History of the Kelly Gang
Five depictions of the infamous Aussie outlaw down the decades.


To celebrate the release of True History of the Kelly Gang in UK/ROI cinemas on the 28th of February 2020, we are taking a look back at some of the previous film adaptations of the life of historical bushranger and infamous icon Ned Kelly and his gang.




The Story of the Kelly Gang (1906)
The Story of the Kelly Gang
The Story of The Kelly Gang, directed by Charles Tait, was inscribed in the UNESCO Memory of the World Register as the first full-length feature film ever made. It explores the exploitation of Ned Kelly and his gang in Australian history. The film proved to be highly successful after being given a week of trial screenings. It premiered in the UK in January 1908 and became a critical and commercial success, though sadly most of the footage has now been lost. In the 2017 Australian western Sweet Country, Tait's film can be seen playing in a makeshift cinema.



The Kelly Gang (1920)
The Kelly Gang
Directed by Harry Southwell, this Ned Kelly tale was released in February 1920, during a time when Australian state New South Wales had banned films depicting the outlaw practice of 'bush-ranging' (armed robberies, usually staged in remote areas of the Australian bush). However, the film soldiered on and was released regardless, ultimately proving a relative success at the box office. Shunning established stars, Southwell cast a group of relative unknowns so the audience would associate them solely with their characters.



Ned Kelly (1970)
Ned Kelly (1970)
This British-Australian biographical film directed by Tony Richardson stars Rolling Stones icon Mick Jagger in the title role. The film is the seventh movie based on Ned Kelly, but it offers something different to its predecessors, being that it is partly a musical. Production took place in Australia and aside from Jagger, the majority of the cast are Australian. The cinematography by Gerry Fisher, was highly praised upon release, though critics were less kind regarding Jagger's performance. The rocker's casting was protested by Kelly's descendants, but his rock star presence lends an extra subtextual commentary to the iconic status of the outlaw.



Ned Kelly (2003)
Ned Kelly (2003)
Starring the late Heath Ledger in the title role and Orlando Bloom as Joe Byrne, Kelly gang member and best friend of Kelly, this film is an adaption of the novel 1991 novel ‘Our Sunshine’ by Australian novelist Robert Drewe, adapted here by John Michael McDonagh. This dramatised depiction of Kelly’s life received mixed reviews from critics and earned a mere $6.5 million worldwide. The film does however serve as a good introduction to the exploits of Kelly and features a supporting cast of acclaimed Aussie actors including Geoffrey Rush, Naomi Watts and Joel Edgerton.



True History of the Kelly Gang (2020)
True History of the Kelly Gang
True History of the Kelly Gang is a new depiction of the notorious Ned Kelly and his gang. It has been adapted from Peter Carey’s booker prize winning novel of the same title and is directed by Justin Kurzel, whose take on the Kelly narrative has been described as capturing the essence of Kelly. The filmmaker made the conscious decision in this epic adaption to present Kelly’s childhood to the audience and to portray him as a damaged individual who ultimately felt overlooked in society. Anchored by a striking performance by George Mackay as Ned Kelly, the film makes for powerful viewing.



True History of The Kelly Gang releases in the UK on the 28th of February 2020.