Australian cinema’s fascination with bushrangers has been going on since feature films first started going into production… literally. The first feature film ever made in the world was made here in Australia in 1906 and was about the notorious Kelly Gang. Of course since then the Ned Kelly story has been told a number of times on screens. In 1970 The Rolling Stones’ front-man Mick Jagger travelled to Australia to don Kelly’s armour in a film directed by Tony Richardson, while in 2003 Oscar winner Heath Ledger played the notorious outlaw for Gregor Jordan. And the bushranger cinema legend doesn’t just stop there, in 1976 Dennis Hopper played Mad Dog Morgan in a performance that became more famous for Hopper’s off-screen behaviour than anything he did on screen.
One bushranger though that hasn’t had his story on the big screen is perhaps Australia’s most notorious bushrangers – Ben Hall. In a lot of ways Hall was a more ‘active’ bushranger than Ned Kelly but is often overshadowed by him when it comes to the history books. That is all about to change now thanks to a brand new film called The Legend Of Ben Hall and I caught up with the director of the film, Matthew Holmes, for a chat.
With the film becoming such a great feature film it was surprising to hear Holmes say that originally he intended for the film to just be a short. “Originally this project started as a Kickstarter film,” explains Holmes. “A short film actually but we were really successful at raising more money than we required so when we had shot for a short amount of time we showed our footage to Odeon’s Eye Entertainment and they were so impressed with what they saw that they decided that this should be a feature so we kept working together and expanded it into a full two hour film. I had actually wanted to make a feature film about Ben Hall so already had a script ready to go.”
As a discussion went on I just had to ask Matthew when his fascination with Ben Hall began. “I’d actually always wanted to make a bushranger movie since I was about 13 or 14 years old, but I’d always wanted to make it about Ned Kelly and make it a bush western – an Australia western – but then they made Ned Kelly and someone said to me that I should check out other bushrangers and they mentioned Ben Hall. So I discovered Ben Hall in 2007 and as I started to read the history I realised that I had stumbled onto a wonderful true story that was screaming for a movie make.”
As Holmes discovered there were actually a lot of eyewitness accounts written by those people that knew Ben Hall so while the story is spot on with what actually happened I had to ask about how close to realism did he come when it came to casting the film’s major roles. “ I started with the look,” admits Holmes. “I went with actors that looked like their historical counterparts. That was very important for me because we have photographs of the people themselves, we know what they look like, and I wanted a film where it looks like history is coming to life, so it was very important to me that the actor playing Ben Hall and the actors playing his gang looked similar to who they were playing. That started the process then of course there was acting ability but I didn’t want either to be mutually exclusive”
“We spoke to so many actors,” says Holmes. “We auditioned them thoroughly and we found some wonderful performers throughout Melbourne and Sydney but we were also able to reach out to some Australian staples and get some great people like Arthur Angel, Andy McPhee and people like that. That gave the film more weight and they were super excited to get involved because they loved the material.
The Legend Of Ben Hall is a sensational new film that will be in cinemas on December 1st.