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William Kelly's War - Film Review

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by Jody Kimber (subscribe)
Freelance writing, located in the Eastern Suburbs of Sydney.
Published October 28th 2014
Wars are hard fought lest we forget


Gough Whitlam was a major backer of the Australian film industry. He would have been proud of the effort put into making this flick by Geoff Davis and all who were a part of it. William Kelly's War spent 3 years in production and was created with a spirit and tenacity all its own.

William Kelly's War is not an easy war. The boys are sent off to Europe to fight a war in a distant land with a sense of awe and amazement. But their adventure turns into a heart wrenching truth about conflict, death on and off the battlefield and its ethical, moral and human cost.

William Kellys War, Billy Kelly at War, Josh Davis as Billy Kelly, Australian Film Making, Geoff Davis Writer/Director
In the trenches.


Josh and his brother Matt Davis, play William (Billy) and Jack Kelly. They are, with their cousin Paddy (Lachlan Hume), sent to fight a war in Europe. The war seems never ending and the boys prove to be more than able. Billy's war shows him more about the nature of the human condition than many of us will ever see in our lifetime. Billy and his brother Jack get to return home, but Billy's fight is not over yet.



Geoff Davis says William Kellys War was filmed with "the smell of an oily rag and took to the sea with wet sails". The story is one based on the fact of the Kelly Brothers and the true innocence of the boys sent off to fight in trenches and the insurmountable battles that they had to fight.

At home, there's conflict too. Not only are their families worried and pinning for their boys to come home, they are being attacked by Cattle thieves who have found a way to get the cattle from the farmers that makes it more difficult to follow their trail. Again, this is based on real events. Davis presents to us a story of life, death and survival that rivals many in its telling.

Hellen Davis, Maureen Alford and Ella McIlvena play three brilliant Australian women. Helen Davis plays Mrs Marjorie Kelly, the boys' mother. Her sister Kath Burton is played by Maureen Alford. Each of these two female characters bring to the screen the strength and beauty of the mothers who saw their sons leave our shores for war. They openly question the decision to send their sons to a conflict so far away.

Helen Davis as Marjorie Kelly and Maureen Alford as Kath Burton
Marjorie Kelly and Kath Burton by Helen Davis and Maureen Alford.


Ella Mcilvena plays the brave, adventurous and spirited daughter and sister Jess. She is a bright, accomplished, strong, intelligent female who stands her own ground on her own terms. She has to buck in more whilst the boys are away. McIlvena's character is a timeless image of a strong young female who can take on any opponent and survive.

Ella McIlvena as Jess, William Kellys War.
Jess, played by Ella McIlvena


Jess, experiences a side of war that women are often faced with. But being far from the main conflict of war, you would not think that our women would be in danger of assault and rape at home.

This is not an easy film to watch at times. Strong war themes, violence, blood and gore and indecent language. I was aware that I did watch 102 minutes of death on screen and tried to remember that it was makeup and acting.

At the beginning this was quite easy, the film seemed theatrically homely. As the script developed, this movie did turn into something more.

Tony Bonner, an Australian favorite from the iconic Skippy series and a constant in Australian film over many years, plays Mr Kelly. Mr Kelly is the father, at home tending to his cattle and taking care of his family, creating stability when it is difficult to see what the future might hold. You can see his dispair at the thought of not seeing his sons return from war. You see his love of his family and how life takes a turn for him.

Tony Bonner as Mr Kelly, William Kellys War, Geoff Davis's Movie,
Tony Bonner and Helen Davis as Mr and Mrs Kelly


With his wealth of Australian and International success, Bonner gave the cast a strength. The cast had little acting experience, which was difficult to see from where I sat. I saw a wealth of talent and heart. They all did superbly and its always great to see fresh Australian talent on the screen.

Davis tells me that two scenes with Tony Bonner that were personally important to him were cut, but if he does a directors cut, these will be back in.

There was an autheticity in the characters, the sets and The costuming. Looking theatrical in nature at first, the very traditional Australian outback clothing of the time became apparent. Alex Hullah sourced many of the costumes creating the look and feel of all that William Kelly's War had to say. Making it all very simply real.

Tony Bonner, says he aways adds something of his own to his costume. "A belt" in this case, he said. He says he often has a pipe that comes with him. The pipe used in movies such as "The Lighthouseman" is one of his favourite props. Bonner says he has "a great love of playing military men" and this time he plays a man who is seeing war through the eyes of a father at home.

Tony Bonner as Mr Kelly, William Kellys War,


With Rememberance Day on Nov 11th, I know I will think a little more deeply at 11am. This is a movie worth watching. It is a classical Australian film that tells the story of what it was like for the boys of that era - to go to a distant war, for families to wait and worry, for mothers to express their truest emotions as to these boys being their sons, their blood, their next generation.



William Kelly's War opens around Australia on October 30th at selected cinemas. All of our Anzacs have now passed on, but their strength is our strength and some say it was this bloody baptism that created our nation.

This is a piece of anglo-Australian history. I liked it better than Gallipoli. I liked it in a way that I cannot quite tell. I liked it because it was personal and it bought the reality of war, family and loss onto the screen in a personal way. In a manner that connects.

Davis praised Phil Avalon for his input in the later stages of production. Davis has battled long and hard to bring this film to the cinema.

William Kelly's War has now been nominated, along with 24 other entries, for the 4th Annual AACTA Awards. This is the Australian version of the Academy Awards in the US.
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*Jody Kimber was invited as a guest
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Why? A story told with heart and dignity in the face of insurmountable odds.
When: Opens Oct 30th 2014.
Where: In selected Independent Cinemas
Cost: Varies
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