WILLIAM KELLY'S WAR
As the Great War begins in 1914, Queensland lads Billy (Josh Davis) and Jack Kelly (Mathew John Davis) together with cousin Paddy (Lachlan Hume) sign on and are shipped out to serve with the diggers in Europe. Billy, a known crack marksman is singled out to head up a highly successful sniper team. Billy's sniper abilities and courage in hand to hand fighting astounds his fellow soldiers, and he is awarded the Legion of Honour. When Billy returns home he discovers the shallow grave of his father (Tony Bonner) and learns that his sister (Ella McIlvena) has been kidnapped by bushrangers.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
A solidly made war drama, William Kelly's War resonates with the atmosphere of country Australia at the beginning of the 20th century, a mood so poignantly captured it propels the film. Cinematography, design, costumes and the score all work in harmony, while the performances are evocative.
It's an unusual film in that the war drama morphs into a revenge movie (with distant echoes of Rambo) but the screenplay does this with smart attention to the characters and the circumstances. It's a juxtapose of the young men who went to war, only to come home to family tragedy at the hands of thugs. This element changes the film's mood and takes the story across a longer time frame, of miniature epic proportions. A saga, let's say, stretching across more years than the war.
The war sequences are expertly handled, never appearing to be short of cinematic resources, and the battle field scenes are as heartbreaking as any.
Notable performances include Helen Davis as the mother, Josh Davis as her beloved son Billy, the sharpshooter through whose eyes and days we take the journey, and Ella McIlvena as his sister Jess. Tony Bonner is dryly effective as the cattleman whose family is torn apart first by war, then by the bushrangers, led by Jim Kennett (John Black in overdrive). Maureen Alford is a standout as Aunt Kath, with one particularly moving scene which is adroitly directed and shot.
NB If you look up the name William Kelly in the Australian War Memorial, you'll find an Australian soldier of that name who was killed in World War I - a coincidence perhaps.
Review by Louise Keller:
There is an appealing truth about the heroic exploits of William Kelly, told with the semblance of historic precision. With its interesting structure of drama and documentary-style reportage in which letters from the soldiers and their families depict their mindsets, the story is uniquely Australian. Geoff Davis' film starts slowly and it takes some time for us to become engaged in the plight of this kangaroo-shooting rifle champion whose heroics are exposed not only in World War I, but facing an enemy on home soil on his return.
The film begins in 1913, when we watch Billy Kelly (Josh Davis) in action, hunting kangaroo for the family's dinner. His marksmanship is impressive - he never misses and maintains the one bullet given to him by his dad John (Tony Bonner) is incentive enough to hit his target. His deadly precision is the focus of much of the action as Billy, with his brother Jack (Mat Davis) and cousin Paddy (Lachy Hulme) head to war.
We hear the descriptive words from letters written in Fromelles and the responses from the family at home, as the narrative goes back and forth back and forth, offering an insight into the conditions at war and the thoughts at home. Despite their rich content, these scenes are the film's weakest and often feel manufactured.
As Billy recuperates in a British Army hospital in England after being wounded, we are drawn in by the arrival of a young, handcuffed deserter, whose shocking fate comes as a surprise. No news is good news but the arrival of an urgent army telegram at Proserpine can only be bad. No Victoria Cross can compensate for a son. 'Over there it was a raffle; just meat in a grinder,' observes Billy.
Davis is excellent as Billy and it's always good to see the familiar face of Tony Bonner on screen. The ugly truth about the greedy, nasty Jim Kennet (John Black), who flinches at nothing to increase his herd of Hereford cattle, confronts Billy when he comes home from the war. In the final half hour, the film comes into its own as tension mounts when Billy turns vigilante as he pursues the men who kidnapped his sister Jess (Ella McIlvena). Throughout, Davis retains the story's historical feel with its music score offering a staidness that surprisingly works to the film's advantage.
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WILLIAM KELLY'S WAR (MA15+)
CAST: Josh Davis, Tony Bonner, Ella McIlvena, Matthew John Davis, Lachlan Hume, Helen Davis, Maureen Alford
PRODUCER: Phil Avalon, John L. Bickford
DIRECTOR: Geoff Davis
SCRIPT: Geoff, Josh & Mat Davis
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Damien Beebe
EDITOR: Andrew Knight, Digby Hogan
MUSIC: Phil Lambert
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Alex Hulla
RUNNING TIME: 100 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: IFM/Filmways
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: October 30, 2014