Justin Kurzel and Essie Davis at the Sydney premiere. (Photo credit: Stan)

Justin Kurzel’s True History of the Kelly Gang launched on 16 screens last Thursday, playing on limited sessions before the Australia Day premiere on Stan.

While the takings were a modest $32,000 and $93,000 including screenings at the Open Air Cinema Sydney (but not MONA in Hobart), Stan will reap the benefit of the publicity and mostly positive reviews.

Kurzel, screenwriter Shaun Grant (who adapted Peter Carey’s Man Booker Prize winning novel), producer Liz Watts and stars Essie Davis, Orlando Schwerdt and Sean Keenan attended the Sydney premiere.

George MacKay plays the title role with Schwerdt as the young Kelly, Russell Crowe as his accomplice Harry Power, Nicholas Hoult as Constable Alexander Fitzpatrick, Charlie Hunnam as Sergeant O’Neil and Essie Davis as Ned’s mother Ellen.

Transmission Films originally planned a full-blown theatrical release but scaled that back after Stan made a hefty investment, turning the film produced by Porchlight Film’s Watts, Daybreak Pictures’ Hal Vogel, Kurzel and Paul Ranford, into a Stan Original.

The major chains would not book the film due to the abbreviated window so it screened at locations including Dendy, the Hayden Orpheum Picture Palace, the Backlot Perth, the Ritz Randwick and Melbourne’s Classic Cinemas, Cameo Cinemas and Lido Cinemas.

Producer Liz Watts at the premiere.

Alex Temesvari, the Hayden Orpheum general manager, tells IF: “We always expected limited results with its niche audience appeal and limited sessions. It was worth throwing into the mix for a bit of additional diversity in programming.”

It’s purely hypothetical but would the subversive bushranger drama have drawn mainstream audiences if it had a wide, conventional release?

“Regardless of the quality of the film, its limited appeal would likely have always gotten in the way of finding a big cinema audience,” says Temesvari. “It was probably best to send it to Stan where it will be seen by far more people.”

The Backlot’s Ian Hale tells IF he was happy with the numbers at his cinema, adding: “The reactions were great also.”

Picturehouse will launch the film in the UK on February 28 and it will open in the US in April via IFC Films.