True History of the Kelly Gang | Glasgow Film Festival 2020

True History of the Kelly Gang has been gaining momentum in the last few weeks during its run-up to release after a tour that made its way through Toronto Film Festival at the end of last year. With George MacKay fresh from Sam Mendes' Oscar-winning 1917, audiences have been keen to see where he treads his feet next and from French soil to the Australian bush MacKay lands back in the heart of history, only this time it's 1870.

Based on Peter Carey's novel of the same title, through the pen of Shaun Grant and into the hands of director Justin Kurzel, the film attempts to unpack the complex tale of outlaw Ned Kelly. With an opening title card expressing "none of this is true", it's hard to position yourself as an audience member unless you have prior knowledge of Kelly, especially as the film does little in the way of clarification with what is fact and what is fiction.

It is heavy and relentless from the beginning with its eighteen certificate showing loud and proud from the opening few minutes. A young Ned Kelly, played by Orlando Schwerdt, is hard not to sympathise with when exposed to the awful living conditions of which he lives. Essie Davis takes on the role of his mother, Ellen Kelly, who is too preoccupied with affairs and strife to take care of him, eventually selling him on to a domineering Russell Crowe who gives him his first lesson in the power of a pistol.

It's a slow-burner, to begin with, not entirely picking up until MacKay enters and even then, two hours begins to feel a stretch halfway through. The main issue is the lack of stance on any character with the linear structure doing little in the way of benefitting them. Perhaps a more intricate handling of time would've been beneficial to understanding motives and with a very primary foundation of Ned's childhood, it's difficult to sympathise with him in older years, even told through the innocuous eyes of MacKay.

Thomasin McKenzie who has had a similar journey through cinematic history in the last year has found herself with a gem of a character in Mary Hearn. Her ability to demonstrate strength and sensitivity in one look is impeccable, and her scenes are some of the best part of the film.

Although somewhat poignant for a currently divided world, it's uncertain whether or not True History of the Kelly Gang hits all the right beats along the way. It isn't until the final scene that its message fully lands and by that point, it is potentially, unfortunately, too late. 

True History of the Kelly Gang lands in UK Cinemas 28th February 2020

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