Australian Screen

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Ned Kelly (2003)

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clip Trouble with coppers

Original classification rating: MA. This clip chosen to be PG

Clip description

While Ned Kelly (Heath Ledger) dallies with Julia Cook (Naomi Watts), the English wife of his employer, Dan Kelly (Laurence Kinlan) and Joe Byrne (Orlando Bloom) throw Constable Fitzpatrick (Kiri Paramore) out of the Kelly farmhouse, after his drunken advances toward Kate Kelly (Kerry Condon). Joe Byrne advises Ned and Dan to clear out for a few days to let things blow over.

Curator’s notes

The romance between Ned Kelly and Julia Cook is an invention of the novelist Robert Drewe, in the book upon which the film is based, Our Sunshine (1991). In terms of story, it gives Ned a clear alibi – we can see in this clip that he is not there when Constable Fitzpatrick gets roughed up. It also underlines the class inequality, when Julia later refuses to tell the police that Ned was in her company, for fear of social ruin.

Constable Fitzpatrick’s unwanted attentions towards Kate Kelly ignite the whole story – and there is a clear suggestion that she has done something to encourage it, in the guilty look she gives her mother. It is interesting to compare the same scene in the 1906 film, The Story of the Kelly Gang (clip one), Australia’s first feature film. Ned is present in the 1906 film and he does fire a pistol at Fitzpatrick, wounding his hand. In the 2003 film, even that possible black mark against his character is removed. As he says, ‘I wasn’t even there’. That allows the audience to feel that a greater injustice has been done, as does the subsequent lie by Fitzpatrick, who tells his superiors that Ned Kelly shot him. They then arrest Ned’s mother, who has a young baby. In 1906, Ned is in the thick of it; in 2003, there’s no room for doubt about the injustice.

Note the Irish accents all around: not just the Kellys and Joe Byrne, but the policeman. The 2003 movie is probably the most Irish-inflected of all the films made about Ned Kelly. The script was adapted by an Irish writer and some of the actors, such as Laurence Kinlan, are Irish. Even the landscape is filmed to stress a connection with Ireland. Ned Kelly and his brother Dan were actually born in Victoria, but they speak as if born in Ireland. It’s a little jarring to hear Irish accents in such an archetypal Australian story, but the filmmakers researched the history of the Australian accent and concluded that these characters would have spoken like their parents. Ned’s father ‘Red’ Kelly was born in Ireland and transported as a convict.

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