Hope for bushranger film trilogy fades

Actors William Lee (John Dunn), Jack Martin (Ben Hall) and Jamie Coff (John Gilbert) at Forbes' premiere of The Legend of Ben Hall in Forbes in 2016.
Actors William Lee (John Dunn), Jack Martin (Ben Hall) and Jamie Coff (John Gilbert) at Forbes' premiere of The Legend of Ben Hall in Forbes in 2016.

The filmmakers behind the multi-award winning bushranger biopic The Legend of Ben Hall - which was released in 22 countries and in 5 languages - always planned it to be the first entry in their epic Legends Trilogy.

The trilogy of interconnected films would focus on a different bushranger, with the next two about Frank Gardiner and John Vane.

Characters from the first film would reappear in both, such as Ben Hall, Biddy Hall and John Gilbert.

Once complete, they would form a vast crime saga of New South Wales' most notorious bushrangers spanning over a decade.

It would be the first film series of it's kind ever produced in this country; a 'shared universe' of iconic Australian characters.

But after five years of endless pitching, writer-director-producer Matthew Holmes has reluctantly had to call it quits and shelve the next two instalments indefinitely.

"It's especially heart-breaking for me because of the amount of passion that was behind this project," he said.

"The amount of time poured into the screenplays was immense. The historical research alone and the careful weaving the three films together was a monumental task."

In early 2020, Holmes came extremely close to signing with a major American studio to both finance and distribute the Frank Gardiner film.

"We even had the contracts in our hands," he said.

"But when COVID hit and the world fell apart, so did that deal."

We needed private investors who not only saw the financial potential of the trilogy, but also the cultural significance. But we were always met with closed doors.

Producer Matthew Holmes

Seeking financial support on home soil proved even more futile with Australian streaming services, government funding bodies and investors showing indifference to the project.

"For the marketplace to even take us seriously, we needed a couple high-profile Australian actors to sign on in the lead roles," he said.

"We approached many, but getting the script into their hands proved impossible since we weren't financed yet.

"Conversely, we couldn't finance the films until we had secured some high-profile talent; so we were stuck in this endless Catch 22.

"Our trilogy was not about superheroes, vampires, zombies or invading aliens - which are the safe bets that the marketplace wants.

"Bushranger films are unique, but that's also makes them riskier.

"We needed private investors who not only saw the financial potential of the trilogy, but also the cultural significance. But we were always met with closed doors. Making films in Australia is much harder than people realise."

Holmes is moving onto new film projects, including a modern-day revenge drama The Cost, which is currently filming.

"There was always a time limit on this series," Holmes said.

"We couldn't pick it up in 20 years time, not with over a dozen of The Legend of Ben Hall cast that would reprise their roles.

"The best I can hope for now is that someone with a genuine passion for Australian history and the means to finance these next two films approaches us.

"It's tragic that these scripts will remain forever unproduced, because these are true stories equal to that of Jesse James, Billy the Kid or Wyatt Earp.

"This was our chance to share some wildly entertaining Australian tales on the world stage and it was almost within our grasp... almost."