The Secret of Kells

Directors: Tomm Moore, Nora Twomey
Starring: Brendan Gleeson
Runtime: 75 mins
Review: *****

The Secret of Kells is an entirely untypical specimen of a children’s film. Two trailers that played just before the film perfectly emphasised this: both were computer-animated, featured big stars, and were about super-villains. I was less offended by their unoriginality than delighted by a film that demonstrated their superficiality.

The film follows Brendan, a young monk who obediently follows the wishes of his uncle, the Abbot of Kells, in building a gigantic wall around their home to fend off marauding Vikings. His allegiances change, however, when a new monk named Aidan arrives from the island of Iona with only his white cat and a mysterious book. Soon Brendan is venturing beyond the high walls of Kells to assist his new friend in making a new page in the book.

Visually, the film is astounding. It begins with a stylised representation of buildings, people and trees, but when focusing on the illuminated texts of Aidan’s book, a deeper level of detail appears. The effect appears when the mundane is transcended; the Abbot’s laborious diagrams of his wall become beautiful patterns that fill the whole screen, while in the fairy Aisling’s forest there are Celtic symbols etched upon the trees. The Secret of Kells blends various mythologies, including many in-jokes of ancient Irish culture, but is comprehensible to anyone without prior background knowledge. It doesn’t try to communicate an underhanded message for children to live by; all it offers is a new, unforced and brilliant perspective on ancient pastimes, and themes of man and nature, illumination and storytelling.

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