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What is True History of the Kelly Gang Based on?

April 23, 2020
5 min read

‘True History of the Kelly Gang’ is a biographical film directed by Justin Kurzel. The film starring George MacKay, Nicholas Hoult, and Essie Davis, digs into the life of an Australian bushranger named Ned Kelly in the late 1800s.  The film is etched with violence that is set from the various accounts of childhood trauma Ned Kelly had to undergo. The gripping narrative of the film puts together its ensemble of different characters who prove vital for sustaining the rage and momentum of the plot.

Is True History of the Kelly Gang Based on a True Story?

Yes, True History of the Kelly Gang is based on a true story. The film has been adapted from a novel of the same name by Peter Carey. The book, which won both a Booker Prize and the Common Wealth Writers Prize, is based on the life of Ned Kelly. However, it is essential to remember that book is relatively close but not a completely true account of the events that transpired in Ned Kelly’s life. The film then is a twice-removed entity from the historically accurate events of Ned Kelly. Nonetheless, the film and the book are real in bringing to life Ned Kelly, a rebel bushranger who left an imprint in history. The film, which is then a dramatic biography, does Kelly justice.

Who Was Ned Kelly?

Ned Kelly was born in 1854 to an Irish couple in Victoria, Australia. His father was a transported convict. Transported convicts in penal colonies were sent from Britain and Ireland at the time. During this time, at the peak of the Industrial Revolution and the American Revolution, living conditions were less than ideal in many countries. As a result of poverty, many took to committing petty crimes like stealing food, burglary, etc. The ones caught were put in prison and later transported to the penal colonies.

Photo Credit: rosetta.slv.vic.gov.au

The family lived in much poverty. Growing up, Kelly was arrested due to his association with a bushranger. Bushrangers were escaped convicts who took to the Australian bush to hide from the authority. However, decades later, the term evolved to incorporate these people who had also taken to armed robbery using the bush as a hideout. Kelly also had to serve two prison terms for a list of offenses that included stealing a horse and assaulting a Chinese man.

The Kelly Gang

An aggravated encounter with a police officer in front of his house resulted in his mother being taken to custody for abetting to murder. To seek revenge against this, Kelly mobilized a gang with his brother, and his friends Joe Byrne and Steve Hart. The three were declared outlaws when they killed three police officers. It is crucial to remember that, at the time, the community was torn in its views and sympathies for those who faced the biased brunt of the law. In this regard, Kelly and his gang were able to elude the police for about two years.

Even as an outlaw, Kelly stands apart from the rest due to a Manifesto he dictated to be written about the reasons why he believes that his actions and behaviors are just against the corrupt and mean practices of the Government of Victoria. He demanded justice for the poor who did not have a voice, very much like Robin Hood.

Much like in the film, Kelly and his gang did have their own self made bulletproof armor. After years of being an outlaw with constant raids and fights, he was captured in the last stand. In his last battle with the police, he was geared up in his armor. Most who saw him were in awe. The police themselves were bewildered at how the gang looked geared up in their customized bulletproof armor. However, a Sergeant named Steele saw through the shield’s vulnerability. As a result, he fired at Kelly’s leg, which tore through his thighs.

Dan and Hart, his fellow gang members, are known to have committed suicide after evading the police for long. The siege left many wounded and dead. In his trial, he was convicted with a large list of crimes and was sentenced to be hanged. Even though many took to the streets demanding his release, Kelly’s fate was set. In November 1880, he was hanged to death, and his reported last sentence was the often-quoted phrase, “Such is Life.”

A Living Legend in Popular Culture

Even after Ned Kelly’s physical death, he continues to live through various representations in Popular culture. Multiple adaptations of his life have featured in theatre plays, visual arts, advertisements, films, books, and so on. In fact, Heath Ledger starred as Ned Kelly in ‘Ned Kelly,’ a western biographical drama that, too, tried to capture events from Kelly’s life. He became an icon and a cultural symbol for being a justice warrior and a rebel against the normative power system at the time. The fact that his heart was always with the poor and the downtrodden has earned him an immortal seat in the hearts of many.

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