True History of the Kelly Gang (18)***

Dir: Justin Kurzel

With: George MacKay, Essie Davis, Nicholas Hoult

Runtime: 125 mins

It’s quite hard to make a case for yet another telling of the Ned Kelly story, following on from the 1970 Mick Jagger version distinguished by its outstanding soundtrack, and a 2003 Heath Ledger version distinguished by being incredibly dull.

One motivation for Justin Kurzel’s new take would be that it seeks once and for all to dispel any notion of Kelly as folk hero or mythical figure, instead examining how he’s driven to criminality by the forces around him rather than ambitions to be a self-made outlaw, which at least makes for a partly interesting film.

It begins in the Australia of the 1860s, with Ned as a teen (Orlando Schwerdt), so there’s a lot more to pack in as fully a third of the film deals with his early life, as we see young Ned’s tough upbringing in the desolate bushland of Victoria.

Transported Irish parents don’t make for a good start for the lad. Episodes include when he saves the life of a boy from a wealthy family, an opportunity squandered by the actions of his domineering mother whose pride gets in the way when they offer to pay for Ned to go to a good school. Stupid people doing stupid things and the consequences thereof seems to be the theme.

Russell Crowe pitches up with a role as a family friend, introducing him to the thieving and murder that would become the way of his short life.

It’s from him that Ned learns about a secret cave, a metal shed that will later become significant once grown to adulthood and played now by MacKay.

Ned is not involved in crime at first, though his family is, leading to encounters with colourful characters, including Hoult’s louche policeman. No-one has honour or humanity, including the bad men of the British army, with a role for Charlie Hunnam as a vicious soldier as the wild fruit salad of accents continues.

It’s a brutal depiction of a merciless land, one explored recently to similarly depressing effect in Jennifer Kent’s The Nightingale, and it’s a case of trying to hang on as we enter a slog of a second half as Kelly goes on an increasingly desperate run from the law in an unusually frozen Australia.