Film Review: William Kelly’s War

This review was originally published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 11th November 2014.

William Kelly’s War is a new independent Australian feature film that has been released to coincide with Remembrance Day. With a gradual rollout starting in regional cinemas (and sure to include Orange at some point), the film follows the trials and tribulations of the Kelly Family through the eyes of Billy (Josh Davis).

Brothers Billy and Jack Kelly (Matthew John Davis), along with cousin Paddy (Lachlan Hulme) volunteer to join the Diggers fighting in Europe. As the Great War ravages across the continent, their shooting and survival skills learnt from cattle farming and living off the land earn them reputations (and medals) as war heroes. Forever changed by their experiences, both physically and psychologically, the brothers return home to discover their family and farm is under threat from bushrangers.

If that sounds like two stories in one, then you are correct. I found the Great War storyline compelling and satisfying enough to be a film on its own, with the cattle rustling plot feeling tacked on and a little too Boys’ Own adventures for my liking. The other consequence of such an expansive story is an array of underwritten characters, especially the titular hero, whose headspace we never really get a glimpse into, short of a few nightmarish flashbacks.

A great example of the superficiality of the script is the stoic matriarch of the family, Marjorie Kelly (Helen Davis) who has little to say but then somehow manages to give two dramatic speeches out of thin air. It felt like rendering Jack Nicholson’s character in A Few Good Men an extra until the final “You can’t handle the truth” speech.

Director Geoff Davis certainly makes the limited budget go a long way. Filmed in regional Victoria, the majority of the production appears to be set on location. The recreation of the outback town of Proserpine is appropriately rustic, and I truly feel for the farmer who volunteered to have his fields dug up to recreate trench warfare. Despite a few scenes where World War One appears to have been fought by a handful of soldiers only, I found the war sequences to be disorientating and claustrophobic.

Less successful was the clunky voice over narration and the overused location and date subtitles which appeared with every new scene. One or the other (or perhaps neither) would have worked for me.

The depiction of gun violence is particularly graphic, even if the majority of it consists of CGI blood splatter, both on the battlefront and in the outback. There is also some gruesome hand to hand fighting. Although pitched at an older demographic, I’m not entirely sure I would be comfortable taking my grandparents to this flick.

Provided you can handle a couple of heavy handed metaphors (men grinding mince in the middle of the field hospital), and a few period continuity issues (cattle with red plastic ear tags and bushrangers wearing oilskin coats with modern press studs), William Kelly’s War is an admirable effort that deserves some attention.

Published in: on November 20, 2014 at 17:08  Leave a Comment  
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