A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that True History of the Kelly Gang is an extremely violent yet superb portrayal of the Australian outlaw Ned Kelly. The movie is based on a Booker Prize winning novel, and despite the title is actually a work of fiction. The violence is graphic, gory, and often shocking -- particularly when it involves children. In one scene, a gun is held to a baby's head and in another, young Kelly (Orlando Schwerdt) is made to shoot a police constable who has been exploiting his mother for sexual acts. A dead body is seen tied to a tree with his genitals stuffed into his mouth. After shooting dead a policeman, the older Kelly (now played by George MacKay) cuts the dead man's ear off. Gun and fist fights result in bloody scenes. None of the characters have any redeemable traits -- including the police -- with even Kelly's loyalty to his fearsome mother Ellen (Essie Davies) misplaced. Women are generally used for the sexual gratification of men with a brothel playing a prominent setting. But Ellen is arguably the strongest character in the movie, albeit her actions are often reprehensible -- she sells a young Ned to a bushranger, played by Russell Crowe. There is strong profanity throughout, including uses of "c--t," "whore," and variants of "f--k" and "s--t." Characters drink and smoke, and Kelly's father is referred to -- and seen -- as a drunk.
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What's the story?
Set in the late 1800s, TRUE HISTORY OF THE KELLY GANG explores the life of the infamous Australian outlaw. Born into an impoverished Irish immigrant family in the Australian outback, young Ned Kelly (Orlando Schwerdt) is introduced to a life of crime by bushranger Harry Power (Russell Crowe). Years later, and now a man, Kelly (George MacKay) forms a murderous and thieving gang who target the authorities while trying to avoid capture.
Is it any good?
This retelling of one of Australia's most infamous figures is brutal, shocking, anarchic, strangely beautiful, but above all, excellent. Despite its name, the movie is actually based on a fictionalized account of Ned Kelly's life -- a fact conceded in the opening credits -- as told in Peter Carey's 2001 Booker Prize winning novel. Fiction it may well be, but there's a realness to the movie that rings far truer than some of the other accounts of Kelly's life. Broken into three acts, the movie begins with a young Kelly -- a superb understated performance by newcomer Schwerdt -- being forcibly introduced into a world of crime. It's a backstory that provides the necessary humanity to, if not sympathize, understand the older more ruthless Kelly, now played by 1917's MacKay.
MacKay's performance is extraordinary -- at times resembling a muscle-ripped contortionist, while in others a confused onlooker trying to make sense of his place in the world. But this is no one person show. Essie Davies as Ellen, the Kelly matriarch, deserves a special mention. But there are also standout performances from Nicholas Hoult as Constable Fitzpatrick and a grizzled Crowe as Harry Power, Kelly's mentor and father-figure. It's a credit to director Justin Kurzel's ability to obtain such powerful performances from all his cast. How Ned Kelly should be viewed in history continues to divide opinion. Freedom fighter or murdering criminal? True History of the Kelly Gang doesn't answer that question, nor does it try to. But as contradictory as it sounds, for a fictional account, such is the realism of the movie, this may be the most honest account of a man enshrined in folklore.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the violence in True History of the Kelly Gang. Did it feel integral to the story? What scenes did you find most hard to watch? What's the impact of media violence on kids?
What did you think of Ned Kelly? Why is he thought of as a hero by some and a murderer by others? Can you compare Ned Kelly to any other historical figures?
What role do women play in the movie? Do you think it's a realistic portrayal for the time period? What influence does Ellen have over her son? Is it a healthy relationship?
The movie is based on a novel that in itself is only loosely based on the real Ned Kelly story. What do you think of movies that play with the truth? Why is it important to recognize what's real and what's fiction? How to spot fake news (and teach kids to be media-savvy).
How is sex portrayed in the movie? Discuss your own family's values on the subject.
- On DVD or streaming: September 8, 2020
- Cast: George MacKay, Essie Davis, Nicholas Hoult
- Director: Justin Kurzel
- Studio: IFC Films
- Genre: Drama
- Topics: Book Characters, History
- Run time: 124 minutes
- MPAA rating: R
- MPAA explanation: strong violence throughout, bloody images, pervasive language, sexual content and some nudity
- Last updated: September 25, 2020
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