Justin Kurzel on True History of the Kelly Gang: 'It's about how we create these legends and these myths'
- James Mottram
- 25 February 2020
Australian director discusses his latest project, which takes on Peter Carey's novel about the mythic 19th century Australian outlaw
After his grisly 2011 serial killer debut Snowtown, Australian director Justin Kurzel has explored the psychology of violence in both classic literature (adapting Shakespeare's Macbeth) and popular culture (video game franchise Assassin's Creed). So his return to something 'more personal' with the hugely stylish True History of the Kelly Gang, taking on Peter Carey's novel about the mythic 19th century Australian outlaw, feels entirely logical.
The film begins with the title, only for the word 'true' to be scrubbed out. 'When Peter wrote the book [in 2000], I think people in Australia really did believe that he was proclaiming this was the true history,' Kurzel explains. 'The irony of the title was being completely lost. We're openly saying this is a fictitious piece. It's inspired by the real character but it's a riff on truth and a riff on re-writing history. It's about how we create these legends and these myths.'
With 1917's George MacKay cast, he follows a long line of actors to play Kelly, including Mick Jagger and Heath Ledger. To Australians, he's as much a part of folklore as Robin Hood for the Brits. 'You grew up eating a Ned Kelly pie and going to see his armour,' says Kurzel. 'There was a confusing relationship with him because you were going, "He's an outlaw" and yet you were visiting him like he was a hero. So there's always been a very uncomfortable, awkward relationship that we've had with him.'