Ned Kelly (2003)




Director:  Gregor Jordan

Starring:  Heath Ledger (Ned Kelly), Orlando Bloom (Joe Byrne), Geoffrey Rush (Francis Hare), Naomi Watts (Julia Cook), Joel Edgerton (Aaron Sherritt), Laurence Kinlan (Dan Kelly), Phil Barantini (Steve Hart), Kerry Condon (Kate Kelly), Kris McQuade (Ellen Kelly), Emily Browning (Grace Kelly), Kiri Paramore (Fitzpatrick), Rachel Griffiths (Mrs. Scott), Geoff Morrell (Mr. Scott), Charles 'Bud' Tingwell (Premier Berry), Saskia Burmeister (Jane Jones).

Australian gang of bank robbers with leader Ned Kelly. 


Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the movie. 

Australia 1871. As a boy, Ned was the hero of Faithful Creek because he saved another boy from drowning.

We next see Ned as a young man on horseback. A police officer asks him if he is Red Kellyís boy. Yes. The policeman adds: "Thatís the post masterís mare." Ned tries to explain the situation, is called a liar and pulled from the horse. When the policeman fires just over Nedís head, Ned pushes him down. Two other policemen come to their colleagueís defense. Ned has to stay in jail for awhile. He comes out with very short hair.

Ned learns that the police have been coming around his motherís house at night, scaring everyone. Ned goes back home. He is greeted by his his sister Grace and Kate and brother Dan, as well as his mother with baby Ellen in her arms. The Irish-Australian family eats a stew of wombat for dinner.

Queen Victoria province. Ned says that he behaved himself. He fought with his fists for money. He meets an English married woman to who he takes a liking.

At a local dance a policeman named Fitzpatrick flirts with Kate Kelly. She does not want him to buy her a drink. Reacting to the rejection, he starts verbally harassing Kate. Ned arrives to save her. For this the Kellys find their horses are gone, chased away by the police.

At night Nedís boys go to the police station to get their horses and they succeed without waking the police guard. They brand the horses with Q for Quinn, his motherís maiden name.

Policeman Fitzpatrick rides to see the Kellys. He tells Dan that he wants to speak with Kate. When Dan and Steve tells him that Kate does not want to see him, he pulls he gun on them and declares he has a warrant for both of the young men. He then invites himself in to see Kate. Ned is out talking to the wife of the Englishman. Later Ned kisses her.

Fitzpatrick becomes fresh with Kate and she slaps him. Steve and Dan then get the drop on Fitzpatrick. They throw Fitzpatrick out. He says he will be back for them. When the other policemen see him a bit bloody, he tells them that Ned Kelly shot him. They arrest mother Kelly and charge her with attempted murder. When Ned learns of this, he shouts: "I wonít take this injustice."

Ned asks the married woman to be his alibi, but she refuses. She says she would be disgraced and they would take her children from her. He says he understands and goes.

The cops are now planning an attack on the Kellys. So the Kellys plan a preemptive strike on their encampment. One policeman is killed by Ned, shot in the left eye. "Now itís done, isnít it" says Steve.

Two other policemen arrive. One of the police in the camp tells the sergeant he had better surrender because he is surrounded. The sergeant rejects the advice and is killed by Ned. The newly arrived policeman is badly wounded by Ned. Ned reluctantly shoots him to put an end to the policemanís agony.

A 2,000 pounds reward is offered for Ned Kelly. And the Felons Apprehension Act was passed that gives anyone the right to shoot and kill Ned on shot.

The Kelly Gang rob a bank. To catch the gang, Police Superintendent Francis Hare, formerly of South Africa, is called in. Over 100 men are arrested and put in jail. But not one of them talks.

Ned gives a lot of money to some of his neighbors to be distributed as it is needed. Then the gang robs another bank.

Hare talks with Nedís friend Aaron Sherritt after he is roughed up. He decides to cooperate with the police. The police set the forest around the Kellys on fire. The gang heads to the married English womanís home, while everyone is out looking for Ned.

The gang returns home. They meet up with Aaron again. They ask him to be a scout for another robbery. But it is a false tip and the gang sees Hareís men riding toward the fake crime scene.   Aaron plays cards with some of his police guards.  Ned pretends to be a woman Aaron knows. He comes out to see her and is shot dead by Joe Byrne.

The police now gather together a virtual army and transport the men by train to Kelly territory. Hare says that the outlaws are part of a movement that threatens the stability of the entire country.

Kelly and his boys stop the circus train. They then talk to the people of the village  Their plan to defeat Hare, partially completed, including the shooting of the  traitor Aaron Sherritt, the police coming to get the gang, and tearing up the railway and sending the train to hell.  Ned comments that Superintendent Hare is easily worth an outlawís mother.  Ned then takes the people of the village to an inn; drinks provided by the gang.

One of the men at the shindig, the Colonel, escapes from the place and goes to warn the police on the train. He succeeds and the tracks are repaired and the train proceeds forward. The Kelly gang prepares for battle. They have created armor for the four gang members.  When the police arrive, the gang tells them that he is sending the civilians outside to safety.  As the civilians walk toward the policemen, somebody shouts that itís a trick and the police start killing the civilians.  Hare calls for a ceasefire. The civilians return to the inn, some wounded.  The Kelly gang in their suits of armor now walk out of the inn to confront the police. A hail of bullets greet them, but in their armor they survive. They start shooting the policemen and quite a few go down. Hare tells the men to aim for their arms and legs. Hare is shot. The Kellys retreat back into the inn. The cabin is shot through with bullets and many of the civilians are killed.

Ned goes outside to fight with the police again.  Joe Byrne is shot in the cabin in the gut between the metal plates. Ned collapses with wounds in his extremities. He has a flashback to his childhood where he is awarded with a sash for his saving the young boyís life. But he is still alive in the daylight. He is behind the police as they watch the inn burning.  Steve and Dan are still alive.  The two commit suicide to avoid being burned alive.

Ned puts his helmet back on. He shoots in the air and then starts firing at the police. The police return fire and Ned falls again. He is captured. He wears the sash he received as a boy for his heroism. Hare also survived the gunfight. He comes to see Ned and asks permission from Ned to take his sash that Ned had worn during the battle.  Ned is taken by train to prison. 

Ned was hanged on November 11, 1880, despite petitions for leniency.  He was 25 years old.


An entertaining movie. It is done in the same spirit as the Jesse James myth which in turn is based on the story of Robin Hood who supposedly robbed the rich to give to the poor.  It's a popular story and makes for some good movies.  Heath Ledger gives a good performance as Ned.  Thank goodness it did not have Mick Jagger as the gang leader as the 1970 movie did.

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.


Historical Background:


Edward "Ned" Kelly   --  Australia's most famous bushranger; like the American Jesse James, was a bad man considered a folk hero for resisting the corrupt powers that be. 

c. 1854  --   Edward Kelly born in Beveridge, Victoria, north of Melbourne, the third of eight children, but the eldest son, to Irish Catholic parents.

When he went to school he risked his life to save a drowning boy.  The drowning boy's family presented Ned with a green sash.

1866  --  at age 11, Ned's father died.  Ned was now the head of the family.  He and his family lived in poverty.

The family moved to the Glenrowan, Victoria (now known as Kelly Country).

1869  --  at age 14, Ned was arrested for assaulting a Chinese pig farmer.  The charges were eventually dismissed, but only after Ned had spent ten days in the lock up. 

1870  --  Ned was arrested for being an accomplice of bushranger Harry Power. Little evidence for conviction was presented and Ned was let go after a month.

1870 (October)  --  Ned was arrested for assaulting Jeremiah McCormick and got six months hard labor.

1870  --  Ned again arrested, this time for possession of a stolen horse. Ned tried to make a get away but was caught and sentenced to three years hard labor. 

Once free, Ned and his brother Dan rustled cattle.

1878 (April)  --  the Kellys claimed that Constable Alexander Fitzpatrick assaulted sister Kate Kelly.  In turn, the constable said that Ned had tried to kill him.  The end result that Ned went on the lamb. 

1878 (October)  --  Ned and his cronies killed three police officers in a shoot-out after the police found the outlaws in Stringybark Creek. 

Ned formed the Kelly Gang: Ned, Dan Kelly, Joe Byrne and Steve Hart. 

1879 (February)  --  the Kelly gang robbed two banks at Euroa and Jerilderie.  The robbery in Jerilderie was fairly ingenious. The first thing the gang did was head to the local police office where they imprisoned the police.  They then changed into police uniforms, telling suspicious towns people that they were reinforcements from Sydney.  They later took hostages at the Royal Mail Hotel.  Dan and Steve Hart held the hostages, while Ned and Joe Byrne raided the local bank (taking about two thousand pounds).

Jesse James would write the local papers giving his rationalizations for his illegal activities, often blaming it on the poor treatment of southerners by the conquering authorities.  Ned did something similar.  He wrote a letter for publication on the unfair treatment of himself, his family and Irish Catholics by the police. But Ned went Jesse one step better.  He claimed there might be an uprising in Australia (and the United States and Ireland) against the injustices faced by the people. 

1880 (June 26)  --  Dan Kelly and Joe Byrne killed an old friend who had become a police informer.  There were four policemen at the victim's house but they hid under the bed.  And the police officers did not report the killing until late the following morning.

1880 (June 27)  -- the Kelly Gang held 70 hostages at the Glenrowan Inn.  They were anticipating the coming of the police via the train and tore up the track to derail the train.

Also in anticipation of the coming showdown, the gang members brought out their home-made armor plating.  The suits of armor weighed about 80 pound each and came complete with helmets. 

Instead of the train being derailed, the gangs plans were derailed.  A released hostage stood on the railway line and flagged down the train. 

The police set up a siege at the inn.

1880 (June 28 dawn)   --  Ned Kelly emerged from the inn in his suit of armor firing his gun at the police.  The police bullets just bounced off the armor.  But since his lower extremities were not protected, he was shot in the legs anywhere from 6 to 28 times. 

Joe Byrne died in the hotel through a loss of blood from a wound, while Dan Kelly and Steve Hart died by ingesting poison.

1880 (November 11)  --  Ned Kelly was hanged at the Melbourne Gaol.  His last words were:  "Ah, well I suppose it has come to this... Such is life".



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