Monday, 10 April 2017

World Cinema: Ireland - "The Secret of Kells" (2009) Film Review

Fig 1

Tom Moore and Nora Twomey’s Irish animated fantasy film “The Secret of Kells” (2009) tells the story of the real-life Book of Kells, that was worked on by monks in a remote Irish abbey who also lived under the threat of a Viking invasion. Moore and Twomey have also worked more recently on the film called “The Breadwinner” (2017) which features a similar style to “The Secret of Kells”.

Fig 2
The film focuses on a small boy called Brendan, who does chores for his very strict and controlling uncle, Abbot Cellach, and yearns to go beyond the walls built in preparation of an attack. Brendan overhears the monks speaking about a mysterious book that is unfinished, as well as the author, Brother Aiden, who then arrives at the Abbey. Aiden takes Brendan under his wing and asks him to venture beyond the walls in search of gall nuts to create marvellous green ink for the book. However, Brendan has been taught by his uncle to never set foot outside the walls because of the dangers that lurks out there, but, alongside Aiden’s cat Pangur Ban, they go into the woods in search for the nuts.

Brendan comes across monsters and diversions in his path, but the forrest spirit Aisling comes to his aid and helps him to find the nuts. Upon his return, Brendan and Aiden work in secret on the book. Eventually, the Vikings attack, and Abbot Cellach believes his nephew to be dead, when in fact Brendan and Aiden continue their work, and the adult Brendan returns with the finished piece to show his uncle. The film ends with beautiful animation of golden laced pages with intricate illustrative detail. 

Fig 3
The majority of the film is hand drawn, which is impressive in itself, but also as it is adorned with patterns and maintains its style which is charming and clear shapes can be seen in the characters. The 2D style is also unique, and Roger Ebert explains: […] these images move mostly from back and forth within the same plane, which is only correct since perspective hasn't yet created spatial dimension. But there's no feeling of limitation. Indeed, in a season where animated images hurl themselves from the screen with alarming recklessness, I was grateful that these were content merely to be admired.” (Ebert, 2010).

The film is also drizzled with intricate patterns and designs, much like the real book, as Marc Lee states: “Inspired by the pages of the Book itself (which is today on permanent display at Trinity College, Dublin), the look of the film is simply ravishing. The highly-stylised images – of a tumbling, tangled forest, ravening wolves, flights of black-as-night crows, shimmering snowscapes, the geometric lines of the advancing hordes – are all realised with a gorgeous intricacy.” (Lee, 2010). The film embraces the real-life book and uses it as inspiration to ‘decorate’ the majority of the scenes with luxurious textures and colours, but also made in a sweet child-like style which makes for enjoyable viewing. Lee goes on to say: “The quirky style of animation echoes the drawings and calligraphy of the Book of Kells itself, while the mesmeric tale weaves myth and magic together with the historical miracle of the book’s own survival through fierce and freezing times.” (Lee, 2010).

Fig 4

 The film embraces its Irish roots, in the form of accents, the infamous red-haired characters that derive from Ireland, and the colour palette being consistently green, as well as the iconic Irish music used throughout. Roger Ebert states: “The Irish are a verbal people, preserving legends in story and song; few Chicagoans may know there's a First Folio of Shakespeare in the Newberry Library, but few Dubliners do not know that the Book of Kells reposes in Trinity College. I viewed it once. It is a painstakingly illuminated medieval manuscript preserving the four gospels, and every page is a work of art. Many monks created it over many years.” (Ebert, 2010). In the end, the book was masterfully completed, and the beautiful illustrative display of pages at the end of the film shows the viewer a glimpse of what the years of hard work created. 


Ebert, R. (2010) (Accessed on 10/04/2017) 

Lee, M. (2010) (Accessed on 10/04/2017)

Illustration List

Fig 1: (Accessed on 10/04/2017)
Fig 2: (Accessed on 10/04/2017)
Fig 3: (Accessed on 10/04/2017)
Fig 4: (Accessed on 10/04/2017)

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