Wednesday, 7 December 2016
DIRECTOR INTERVIEW: MATTHEW HOLMES THE LEGEND OF BEN HALL
Matthew Holmes had always wanted to make an Australian western; a fascination with Australia's colonial and bushranger history since his early teens planting the seeds for a Ned Kelly film. But when someone else made that film (Gregor Jordan's 2003 feature starring Heath Ledger), a life-long dream seem quashed.
“Then someone told me 'there are a lot more bushrangers out there than Ned Kelly'. After doing some research, I learnt there are some pretty fascinating characters out there. And after discovering Ben Hall in 2007, I've had that [film] as my goal all along,” Holmes says.
The Legend of Ben Hall, a mostly privately-funded, 140-minute film, is a retelling of the last nine months in the life of the bushranger who, despite his gang terrorising New South Wales in the 1860s, never actually took a life. "It could have been blind luck that he never killed anybody. But I believe he had a code, and had an aversion to taking lives,” Holmes suggests.
And yes, he is prepared for the criticisms, should they come, about "glorifying" a criminal. “My goal was to break down the romanticism of it. It's a fascinating story and that's why I'm telling it. I'm not trying to judge it, right or wrong, or put Ben Hall on a pedestal. Nor am I trying to tear him down. I'm just trying to study him and say, 'here is a fascinating man, let's look at him warts and all', and let the audience decide."
“With Ben Hall, I tried to make something very realistic, and we stuck very closely to the historical accuracy of the story. We played it exactly as I believe it was, not only to make it entertaining as a film but a faithful adaptation of history," Holmes explains. Helping to immerse audiences in the story is the lack of big name Australian actors. Relative newcomer Jack Martin, making his feature film debut, plays the title role; cast as much for his resemblance to the man as for his acting ability.
“I wanted to get people who looked as close to a carbon copy of the historical person as I could. The fact that they're all unknown and fresh faces helps the audience make that leap, that 'I'm watching Ben Hall and his gang now', because they have no other reference for these actors, which is good in that sense,” Holmes says, though admitting it's a double-edged sword when it comes to marketing and sales. “It's harder to sell the film in the market place because we don't have Hugh Jackman on the poster. But as a person who goes to the movies, I really don't care who's in it, I just care that they're good."
And Holmes can't wait for audiences to see his film; The Legend of Ben Hall set to premiere in Forbes, the town where Ben Hall is buried, just weeks after our chat. “I'm really looking forward to just showing people. I've been sitting on the film for so long, waiting to show people, this for me is the exciting time: I've done the hard work, now I finally get to show it to an audience. I'm actually really excited about it."
The Legend of Ben Hall (Pinnacle Films) is in select cinemas now.
This interview also appeas in the December issue of Cafe Reporter magazine.