On Saturday 22nd March, 2003, amidst hundreds of adoring fans and too many try hard celebrities I walked the red carpet at the Regent Theatre to watch the world premiere of Ned Kelly. Granted the fans were screaming for Heath and Orlando and not at an overweight Andre Agassi look-a-like, but I didn’t go there for the adulation. I went to see the movie and grab a few free Crown Lagers afterwards. And no, I didn’t get a free ticket thanks to the eight years of blood, sweat and tears running this website. I got my bum on a seat because my photographer mate Matt Deller (who took all the pictures on this page) was handed a double pass.
Before I start this review a word of warning — if you are going to see Ned Kelly believing it to be a condensed version of The Last Outlaw you will be bitterly disappointed. This movie is an adaptation of that terrible Robert Drewe book Our Sunshine (see our book review). It includes such gems as Ned killing a horse so the boys can have a drink (after a couple of days starving in the bush); and a confusing scene with a circus lion which gets shot by police. Apparently, in the original screen play Ned enters the cage and sits with the lion! Will we see this on the DVD? The police also shoot the lion’s mate, a monkey, resulting in the films funniest line with Joe Byrne saying ‘The monkey’s hit’).
Even Mick Jaggers’ 1970 Ned Kelly made more sense — they actually took the time to film Ned leaving the Glenrowan battle to turn back his armed sympathisers. This new film leaves that part out entirely. New improved Ned now rides with Joe (who dresses as a woman to entice Sherritt from his hut) to shoot Aaron. He also dictates the Jerilderie letter, all fifty six pages of it, inside the Jerilderie hotel helped along by the hostages. Although new Ned has trouble reading a newspaper (handed to him by Aaron in one scene), we see him in Euroa having a read of the book Lorna Doone. Lucky Ned even manages to shag some rich bloke’s wife (a few times). And, of course, he slits the neck of a horse, kills it and drinks it’s blood (apparently the boys were really thirsty).
Actually I’m having trouble getting past the Gang drinking horse blood. It wasn’t needed in the film. It was based on a scene where Aaron supplied information as to the Gang’s hideout (after the police beat him up). The police proceed to set fire to the surrounding bush then poison all the water. If you take into account the two days of travelling the Gang had to endure to escape the devastation, the cops must have burnt half of Victoria! And how these police could have poisoned so many watering holes (many of them mere puddles) while the fires were raging all around is mind boggling. Perhaps if they had spent this time chasing Ned instead of tipping arsenic into good drinking water, they may have ended the hunt months earlier!
So dear Director why not cut the blood scene altogether, and put back the one where Peter Phelps’ character, Constable Lonigan, squeezes Ned’s balls? At least that scene was based on actual events.
If you can ignore the strange accents some of the actors use (ie. Orlando Bloom as Joe Byrne), what you will like is Heath Ledger. He plays a great Ned Kelly. Heath has a commanding presence. I left the cinema believing he could have been Ned if the script was right. Unlike so many other wannabe Ned’s, Heath was the right age, with a similar physique and statue. It was his acting and a great final shoot out at Glenrowan (with no basis in history) which saves the movie for me. Young Guns in armour.
However, for mine the highlight of the night was the after movie drinks in the Regent Ballroom downstairs. I took along my own dodgy helmet which allowed Matt the photographer a prop to take some interesting photos, including a shot with premier Steve Bracks (was that lipstick he was wearing?) and two living legends — Charles ‘Bud’ Tingwell and Ian Jones.
As a piece of history this movie has more holes in it than swiss cheese. I heard the director Gregor Jordan saying he hopes schools adopt this movie as part of their history curriculum. Well, with no historian consulted on the film, I think Gregor has spent too much time in the sun. If you can get past the fact that this isn’t a movie full of facts, you may walk away with having seen a few hours of good entertainment. The disclaimer at the end of the credits goes a long way in explaining the movie:
While this picture is based in part upon a true story, certain characters and names have been changed, some characters have been composited or invented and a number of incidents fictionalised. Any similarity to any name, character or history of actual persons living or dead other than those portrayed and depicted herein is entirely coincidental and unintentional.
Then the lights went up and the crowd cheered. However, as over 90% of the audience was comprised of B grade celebrities (like Harold from Neighbours) who would’ve turned up for the opening of an envelope, they had no idea why they were clapping. As I looked around the theatre I noticed the smattering of intellectuals and academics were doing no such hand movements.
I’ll sum up with a few words from the director Gregor Jordan, taken from the foreword to the book Ned Kelly The Screenplay, ‘I sat on the grass in Hyde Park and read the script and as I finished I burst into tears’. Yes, Robert Drewe’s interpretation of Ned Kelly has made a number of people cry, me included. Maybe it will make more sense once it comes out on DVD. Anyone else want to make a Ned Kelly movie?
Regent Theatre Melbourne