Film costume, "Ned Kelly", ensemble including clothing and armour with trolley, worn by Heath Ledger as Ned Kelly in the film 'Ned Kelly', cloth/ metal/ rubber, designed by Anna Borghesi/ produced by Working Title Australia, Australia, 2002
This costume is considered to be important because of its use in the 2003 film 'Ned Kelly'. It also has significance due to its local design and manufacture, its excellent original condition and its potential for display in a variety of thematic contexts including Australian film-making and the legend of Ned Kelly.
As a group, the costumes help to document the film, its characters and actors. In their design and fabrication they exemplify excellence in recent Australian film craft. Anna Borghesi won the AFI award for Best Costume Design for this film. The costumes are in excellent condition, complete and intact (as evidenced by the inclusion of the green and gold 'hero sash' worn by Heath Ledger under his metal armour during the Glenrowan shootout).
The costumes derive more of their significance from the cultural meanings that can be assigned to them than from their historical and aesthetic qualities. These cultural meanings pertain to the Ned Kelly story and its place in the history of ideas surrounding nationalism, rebellion and the Australian character. In terms of suitability for display, this gives the costumes additional interpretative potential, as they can be applied to themes far wider than documenting the 2003 'Ned Kelly' film. The Kelly gang are Australia's most famous bushrangers. The Kelly myth in an enduring one and has inspired films, literature, paintings and songs. Kelly has been romanticised as a national folk hero and was celebrated in the opening ceremony of the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games. Interest remains high in 'Kelly culture', as seen in the recent exhibitions 'Kelly Culture: Reconstructing Ned Kelly' (State Library of Victoria) 'and 'Outlawed!' (National Museum of Australia).
The film reinforces Kelly's self-image as a man wronged by the police and justice system, who stands up against the persecution by the colony's British authorities of poor Irish settlers in northern Victoria. In the film members of the Kelly family are harassed from an early age by corrupt police, arrested on fabricated charges and forced into a life of crime. As the gang continues to elude the authorities, it gains a heroic reputation among the lower classes.
The theme of the individual Aussie battler taking on the establishment is a familiar one in Australian cinema (recently exemplified in 'The Castle'). The 'Ned Kelly' film stands within this tradition but avoids an overtly ideological interpretation of Ned as a republican revolutionary. Ledger's Ned Kelly is proud and defiant but is a reluctant killer and the film does not glorify violence.
Although a box office success, the film's critical response was mixed. Some felt the story was rushed and lacking in detail. Historians debated the film's portrayal of the Kelly story, with discussion focussing on the Naomi Watts character (part of a fictitious romantic sub-plot created for love interest), Joe Byrne's womanising and Ned's thick Irish accent. In many aspects of the script and production details, Gregor Jordan took great pains to be historically accurate.
The ensemble includes the metal armour worn by Heath Ledger as Ned Kelly. The original armour worn by the Kelly gang at the Glenrowan showdown is firmly embedded in Australian folklore. It carries ambiguous cultural meanings as a potent symbol of a defeated criminal killer and a fallen hero.
The ensemble also includes the green and gold sash worn by Heath Ledger beneath his armour and costume. At the age of 11 Ned Kelly rescued a drowning seven-year-old named Richard Shelton from Hughes Creek in Victoria. The boy's parents Esau and Elizabeth Shelton, proprietors of the Royal Mail Hotel at Avenel, presented Kelly with a green sash fringed with bullion, in recognition of his bravery in saving their son. Kelly was wearing the sash under his armour at his last shootout at Glenrowan. After Ned's capture a Dr Nicholson removed the sash and kept it for himself. It was held in his family for many years, but is now on display at the Benalla Costume and Folk Museum. The sash that forms part of Heath Ledger's costume was based on this original.
Designed by Anna Borghesi. A graduate of NIDA in costume design for film and theatre, Borghesi developed her craft in costume and set design for theatre. Her theatre credits include over forty productions, including eight with director Neil Armfield. Her first film was 'Romper Stomper', for which she received an AFI award nomination. She has since received AFI award nominations for 'Body Melt', 'Metal Skin', Jan Chapman's 'Love Serenade', 'The Well' and 'Head On', before winning the AFI Best Costume Design award for 'Ned Kelly' in 2003. She worked on the American films 'Pitch Black' and 'Don't Peek'. Steven Jones Evans won the AFI award for Best Production Design for 'Ned Kelly'.
Designing period costumes for 'Ned Kelly' was a major undertaking. The initial step was to determine broadly the look and feel of the costumes. In an interview with 'AFI Insider' magazine Borghesi said 'The film presents many challenges because it is set over a ten year period, it has lots of stunts (requiring doubles) and 100 speaking parts. It also has a very particular look which I have worked on with Gregor and Steven Jones Evans (Production Designer). It's a very controlled, bleak feel. We've tried to capture the severity and oddness of the period - such as the death of Prince Albert (mourning clothes) and the differences between the Irish and the English.' (Anna Borghesi quoted in 'AFI Insider' magazine, Winter 2002).
'My approach has always been to embrace the whole process and connect with the film; the entire story and the characters. The job is all about giving up your ideas, not hanging onto them or feeling threatened by contributions from other people.' (Anna Borghesi quoted in 'AFI Insider' magazine, Winter 2002).
Borghesi strove for historical accuracy by carrying out careful research into colonial dress of the 1870s to bring a sense of authenticity of the costumes. 'What I tried to do is maintain the cut of the period costume, but give it a little bit of a relaxed feel. I'm not really interested in creating a final look, it's really up to the actor to get into the character - what I do is just give them a skin and then they need to sort out what happens after that.' (Anna Borghesi quoted in the film's official website at: http://www.nedkellythe%20movie.com/interview_anna.htm).
The process of bleach bypass in post-production affected the designer's choice of colours for costumes. This process takes the crimson out of the film stock. For this reason some of the costumes may not appear to be in accurate colours for the 1870s.
With the exception of Ned and Joe's undershirts which were purchased by the costume buyer, all these costumes were made from scratch by the film's costume department using modern fabrics, working as a team.
Costume supervisor: Joanne Wilson
Costume coordinator: Brianna Mann
Costume stand-by: Jill Guice, Roberta Shaw
Assistant costume stand-by: Samantha Edwards Van Gyen, Peter Paul
Additional costume stand-by: Peter Woodward
Costume buyer: Louise McCarthy
Costumiers: Judy Bunn, Terry Thorley, Alison Hills, Jindra Korinek, Alison Fowler
Costume makers: Sophie Guerrier, Jocelyn Creed, Cathryn Ashton, Jane Summers-Eve, Lyn Van Beusichem, Stephanie Van Gastel
Machinist: Brigita Brand
Millinery co-ordinator: Susan Rigg
Milliner: Mandy Murphy
Leather worker: Brendan Dwyer
Costume assistants: Jessie Bush, Veronica Csosz, Pettie Danos, Zoe Fox, Julie Nixon, Shane Phillips
Costume runner: Justin Brow
The armour was designed by Anna Borghesi and made by the film's armour makers Jonathan Leahey and Dylan Thornton, assisted by Janet Zepnick and Tim Farmer (armour maker's assistants), Jim Norris (blacksmith), Tim Kelly (blacksmith's assistant) and Roger Mitchell (fibreglass castings).
Anna Borghesi, Jonathan Leahey and Dylan Thornton were granted access to the Kelly gang's original suits of armour. The real armour was made of forged iron from ploughshares, leather and iron bolts. The approximate total weight of armour (in three pieces) and helmet was 41.4 kg. Patterns were taken from the pieces of real Kelly armour at Old Melbourne Gaol, at the State Library of Victoria, at the Victorian Police Museum, and from the complete set of Joe Byrne's armour in the possession of a private owner Rupert Hammond. Research on the armour for the film coincided with forensic tests which attempted to sort out which pieces of armour were worn by which gang members. This research ended 120 years of uncertainty about the location and configuration of the four suits of armour used by the Kelly gang. There was an exchange of pieces between the State Library of Victoria and Victorian Police Museum in 2002.
Anna Borghesi took plastic patterns from the originals. Jonathan Leahey and Anna Borghesi consolidated the look of the armour through fittings, shaping the armour to fit the actors. While historical integrity was important, dramatic integrity took precedence. Borghesi describes the sets of armour made for the film as adaptations rather than replicas of the originals. She told the Museum 'It was important to theatricalise what we did'. The armour is made from 4mm and 5mm steel, whereas some of the originals are as thick as 7mm. The visor slit on Steve Hart's real armour is bigger than on the replica. It was altered to accommodate his diminutive stature. Such a wide visor would have looked unconvincing on the screen, so it was made smaller to preserve the dramatic effect.
The armour was hot forged over fire, as the Kellys had done. Jonathan Leahey made Ned and Dan Kelly's armour at Guildford. Dylan Thornton made Steve and Joe's armour at Avalon.
Two sets of metal armour were made for each of the four members of the Kelly gang. It was intended that one set would be worn by the actors and one worn by the stuntmen (referred to by Borghesi as 'stunties'). However both sets were worn on the set by both groups (actors and stuntmen). This confirms that the armour in this acquisition was worn by the actors.
A set of fibreglass armour was made for each Kelly gang actor in case they could not manage with wearing the heavy metal sets. In the end, the actors preferred to wear the heavy, 4mm-thick steel armour and the fibreglass sets were only ever worn by actor 'doubles'.
The trolleys used to carry the armour on the set were purchased and modified by Jonathan Leahey.
The costume's provenance (as a donation from the film's producer) is clear. It was made in 2002 for the film 'Ned Kelly' and donated to the Powerhouse Museum in 2003. This costume was worn by Heath Ledger who played the character of Ned Kelly. It was worn in the Glenrowan scenes, including the scenes where Ned wears his armour.
Gregor Jordan's film 'Ned Kelly' had its premiere in Melbourne on 22 March 2003. It was the tenth film about the exploits of the Kelly gang. The first appeared famously in 1906 and is regarded by many as the first feature film. Jordan's 'Ned Kelly' was an Australia/UK/USA co-production produced by Working Title UK, Working Title Australia, Endymion Films, United International Pictures USA. Post-production took place in the UK. It was distributed by Universal Pictures.
A mixture of fact, fiction and poetic licence, Jordan's film is based on Robert Drewe's 1991 novel 'Our Sunshine'. The film covers the period from Ned as a teenager being arrested for possessing a stolen horse to the Kelly gang's armour-clad battle at Glenrowan. Heath Ledger's performance as a benign, conscientious Ned Kelly is passionate and has a depth of character. The Naomi Watts character is entirely fictitious.
'Ned Kelly' received nine nominations for the 2003 AFI awards, as follows:
Gregor Jordan for Best Direction
Heath Ledger for Best Actor in a Leading Role
Orlando Bloom for Best Actor in a Supporting Role
Steven Jones-Evans for Best Production Design (WINNER)
Oliver Stapleton BSC for Best Cinematography
John Michael McDonaugh for Best Screenplay Adapted from another Source
Jon Gregory ACE for Best Editing
Gary Wilkins, Colin Miller AMPS, Adrian Rhodes & Chris Burden for Best Sound
Anna Borghesi for Best Costume Design (WINNER)