|John Jarratt in Wolf Creek : was he closer to the real Ned in this role than when he played him in TLO?
Ive now watched the rest of The Last Outlaw, Episodes 3 and 4, which detail what happened after the Police murders at SBC, shown at the end of Episode 2, and ending of course with Neds hanging. Seen purely as entertainment, I would give it a pass mark as Soap Opera, which according to one definition I found is “A drama, typically performed as a serial on daytime television or radio,characterized by stock characters and situations, sentimentality, and melodrama” Its also typified by characters who are one dimensional goodies – the Kellys and their allies – or baddies – the Police and the Squatters. So we have a jolly scene of the Outlaws returning home for a happy Xmas reunion, romantic interludes among the Eucalypts between Kate Lloyd and Ned, hostages dancing merrily at the Ann Jones Inn and beautiful shots of horses and riders galloping exuberantly across the picturesque countryside. On the other hand Police are portrayed as universally unattractive and devious; one couldn’t create a more evil and less believable Police Commissioner than Standish – but real people are not like that even if they are corrupt or incompetent.
Also typical of Soap is camerawork that lingers long on extreme close-ups of faces that fill the entire screen, and background music that tells us what we are supposed to be feeling – sadness or empathy for the Kellys, contempt and disdain, and a sense of something malevolent for the Traps, amusement and delight at the antics of the gang when taking women and children hostage and robbing Banks.
But as I have already pointed out, what we are being shown is not the truth but the Mythology of Ned Kelly, a private version of history created by Ian Jones who has said he believed if Ned was not a villain he was almost an “un-beatified saint”. Its obvious Jones prefers the latter possibility and tries hard to prove it. As Ive already noted Jones suggests from the beginning that the ideas that took Ned down the pathway to criminality were never his own : George King introduced him to horse stealing and sowed the seeds of resentment towards the Squatters and the Police, and in Episode 4 Tom Lloyd is the one who erodes Neds faith in Aaron Sherritt and encourages his murder.
Neds own ideas are expressed in statements like “Not a word about us calling it quits if they would free our mother” and “ We’ve tried to get Justice and to lead our own lives”. These are made up bits of dialog, but for obvious reasons Jones never has Ned uttering any of the words he actually used in the Jerilderie Letter, hate-filled bloodthirsty language of torture and vicious threats of cruel punishments and death to anyone who would dare oppose him or in any way help the Police. Such talk would ruin Jones carefully crafted image so he ignores it. Jones actually claimed in a Radio interview that much of this rhetoric is from Joe Byrne, once again attempting to keep Neds image squeaky clean at the expense of someone else in the story.
Where in this miniseries is the “wholesale and retail” stock theft that was such a large part of Neds adult life, the forging of Sales documents, the slaughter of horses to conceal evidence, the gambling, and the hooning about town with the Greta Mob? Where are the fights and disputes that occurred between various members of the Quinn and Kelly clans? Where are the other lovers that Mrs Kelly took after Red died? Nothing is mentioned about the sly-grogging and other dubious activities said to be taking place around the Kelly homestead. All trace of the intimidation and terrorising of hostages at the Bank robberies and at Glenrowan is wiped from the record. These unattractive “Facts” about Ned Kelly, like his language in the Jerilderie Letter are not drawn on by Ian Jones because they disturb his myth. Instead he has the preposterous image of Ned bouncing a child on his knee in the middle of a hostage crisis, and shows him cheerfully clearing the table and emptying a bath for the pregnant Mrs Devine – but no re-enactments of him warning the Policeman that harm might come to his wife and children unless he does exactly as he’s told, or vision of Ned shoving the barrel of a loaded revolver down the throat of an old man who dared challenge him! Why are these facts ignored? And why, when there are NO facts to draw from at all does he create a scene where a meeting takes place to draw up a Charter for the Republic of North East Victoria? Why? Because Jones is selling a myth, his private fantasy about Ned Kelly, and being a skillful movie maker, I have to say he does a damn good job.
As entertainment its well done and it works – I confess I had a lump in my own throat as Ellen embraced Ned in his cell the night before his execution, and a tear in my eye when he was hanged and all the sympathisers wept and wailed at the Prison Gate. Less well informed people watching this series uncritically would easily be persuaded it could be the truth, not least because of the disingenuous claim at the beginning of each episode that “All events…are drawn directly from fact” Moreover, in publicity supporting the Miniseries, much is made of the desire of the Producers to make the sets and the props and even the minor detail as accurate as possible. I noted that when Ned fired a test shot into the armor, it was into the inside of the breast plate – a trivial but true detail. I read that the Police uniforms were exact replicas, with five buttons rather than the four found on the uniforms of Police from NSW. All this attention to detail, to the physical setting adds further to the feeling that this is really what happened.
The truth is Ian Jones did such a brilliant job that everyone was convinced. I am amazed that nowhere on the internet can I find a single critical word about this series – it seems to have been universally acclaimed and yet where were the Kelly buffs and the actual historians who could have challenged this skewed version of history, added some notes of caution, pointed out how the unpalatable parts of the Kelly story were left untold, how “facts” were invented, or ignored or misrepresented? Perhaps, because Ian Jones was already an acclaimed and respected producer nobody even thought to question his approach, or the Story he wanted to tell? So he got away with it for 35 years – but not any more.
So, in answer to Comments made to the previous TLO Posts of mine, yes, I am critical of Mr Jones. In particular I am critical of his failure to recognise his own loss of objectivity regarding the history of the Outbreak and the life of Ned Kelly and as a result claim to be presenting an objective account when in reality he provides a very partisan view carefully created out of whichever selected facts suited his purpose. The truth is that Mr Jones has had an enormous impact on one of the great Australian stories, and is in no small way directly responsible for the misapprehension by many of us that Ned Kelly was a hero worthy of inclusion in the history books alongside other great Australians like Burke and Wills, or John Monash or Leichardt, Batman and Lalor. He was not.
In my opinion, The Last Outlaw is really best regarded as Ian Jones fantasy of how he wished Ned Kellys life would have been. If it had been like that, as Ian Jones presented it, then Neds status as Icon and Hero might be reasonable. Instead what Ian Jones has given us is not historical truth but a great and clever rendition of the Kelly Myth. Believe it or not!
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