Toronto acclaim for ‘True History of the Kelly Gang’ and ‘I Am Woman’

‘True History of the Kelly Gang’ (Photo credit: Memento Films International/Ben King).

IFC Films’ acquisition of North American rights to Justin Kurzel’s True History of the Kelly Gang before the world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival now seems savvy in light of the rave reviews.

Meanwhile Unjoo Moon’s debut narrative feature I Am Woman was lauded by some critics for Tilda Cobham-Hervey’s breakout performance as Helen Reddy after it opened the festival’s special presentations section.

IFC Films distributed Kurzel’s debut Snowtown, also penned by Shaun Grant, and currently is handling Jennifer Kent’s The Nightingale, which is playing on 79 screens in its sixth weekend in the US and has grossed $US383,000.

“We are thrilled to be partnering with the assured IFC Films in North America and very excited to see the film go out in the world now,” says Porclight’s Liz Watts, who produced with Daybreak Pictures’ Hal Vogel, Kurzel and Paul Ranford.

Adapted by Grant from Peter Carey’s novel, the bushranger saga stars George MacKay as Ned Kelly with Russell Crowe as his accomplice Harry Power, Nicholas Hoult as Constable Alexander Fitzpatrick, Charlie Hunnam as Sergeant O’Neil and Essie Davis as Ned’s mother Ellen. Jillian Nguyen makes her screen debut as Molly Kane.

Variety’s Guy Lodge declared: “Kurzel’s roughhousing, ripely acted interpretation does full justice to the book’s rugged dirt-poetry vernacular and rich biographical particulars, while staging Kelly’s criminal rise and fall as a vision all its own: a wildly gyrating sensory assault of blood, velvet and strobe lights.

“His roaring, head-butting approach… won’t be for everyone. Still, most can surely agree it’s a corrective to the more blandly gung-ho biopic stylings of 2003’s Heath Ledger-starring Ned Kelly, which pitched the bushwhacking, cop-killing outlaw as little more than a twinkle-eyed rogue; Kurzel’s film considers his madness and morality, and grants him a harder-won dignity.”

The Hollywood Reporter’s David Rooney hailed the film as Kurzel’s best yet, an “electrifyingly original retelling of a tale carved out of Australian myth” and a “a raw rebel yell of a movie that combines visceral violence with a kind of delirious, scrappy poetry.”

Kurzel told Deadline it took him two or three years to get the film made, observing, “It’s a really ambitious piece. It’s a challenging piece. But at the same time, it’s period and there’s a certain scale that I feel like you needed. It’s an absolute love project for me. It was extraordinary to get back to that place of feeling quite liberated and challenged by cinema again, and this was a perfect project to do that with.”

‘I Am Woman.’

Produced by Goalpost Pictures’ Rosemary Blight and scripted by Emma Jensen, I Am Woman features Danielle Macdonald as Reddy’s rock journalist friend Lillian Roxon and Evan Peters as her husband and manager Jeff Wald.

IndieWire’s Kate Erbland quibbled with several cliches and tropes but concluded: “The sheer star power of breakout leading actress Tilda Cobham-Hervey, combined with the movie-ready career path of Reddy and Moon’s clear respect for her, set it a cut above other genre entries.

“For every mild misstep the film makes, Moon and Cobham-Hervey offer essential corrections. The result is a rousing, often tear-soaked crowdpleaser about a woman deserving of the most affectionate of feature-film treatments.”

Similarly, That Shelf’s Pat Mullen rated the biopic as a sure-fire crowdpleaser which is “perfectly timed for the era of Trump and right-wing populism that threatens to shove women’s rights back a hundred years.”

Cobham-Hervey “acts her heart out while bringing to life a story that’s nearly 50 years old and the extent to which the contemporary seeps into I Am Woman can’t be lost on the film’s audience,” Mullen added.

Transmission Films will release both films next year.