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Ned Kelly

A film about the legendary outlaw whose story outgrew his life  

Year: 2003 
Running Time:
Aspect Ratio: 2.39:1 (Scope) 
Certificate: BBFC 15 Cert – Not suitable for under 15s 
Subtitles: The level of subtitling in this film is unknown to WSC 
Directed by Unknown 
Starring: Unknown  
An image from Ned Kelly

Every country needs a Robin Hood figure. Ned Kelly, in many ways, is Australia’s. Returning home after time in prison Kelly (an impressive Heath Ledger) tries to improve his family’s fortunes, even getting a job and trying to rebuild his life with his brother and friends (among which Bloom’s performance as Joe Byrne inevitably stands out).

Just when it seems like life may be changing; Kelly is upset by the persistent attentions of a local constable towards his sister, with violent consequences. Forced to go on the run, Ned and his gang retreat into the wilds. Over the next couple of years they become living legends, robbing banks to give to the poor and confounding the efforts of the law enforcers, led by Superintendent Hare (Rush), to catch them.

Film versions of epic legends have a chequered history from the good (Braveheart) to the comically poor (Mick Jagger’s ‘70s version of this story). This time though, the cast is strong and the plot – while criticised by some for its historical inaccuracies – keeps the film running along nicely. Large parts of the film are probably knowingly false, but the only real glaring error is the addition of a romantic interest for Kelly in the form of a married mistress. In itself this needn’t have been a problem, and Naomi Watt’s talent is almost sufficient to pull it off, but ultimately it’s overdone and looks clumsy and superfluous.

I’m not Heath Ledger’s greatest fan, but he does have an ability to pull off this kind of role with quiet charisma and those tragic looks. Jordan’s take on the Kelly legend casts him as a worn crusader for justice and Ledger makes the role his own to such an extent that it’s difficult to imagine anyone better (perhaps with the exception of Russell Crowe).

Beautifully shot in beautiful - if harsh - surroundings, Ned Kelly is a powerful film. It’s not quite perfect but, like its lead character it draws personality from its flaws and is capable of rubbing shoulders with any of the great epics of the last decade.

Al Ellis

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Screenings of this film:

2003/2004 Spring Term (35mm)