The Secret of Kells – An Illuminated Animation Film

Bredan and the Secret of Kells - Brendan and Brother AidenIn these times, who would make an animated movie that was intentionally two-dimensional? Deflated and only minorly shaded, but visually ravishing. Flat, but filled with ancient swirls and Celtic knots. And who would have thought such a film would become a major hit? ‘The Secret of Kells’, a spirited retelling of the provenance of one of Irelands most cherished artefact, the Book of Kells, was a success in Irish, French and Belgian cinemas alike, got an Oscar nomination for Best Animated Feature Film and is now well on its way to conquering the United States of America. It is also the most fabulous animation film I’ve seen in ages*.

Tomm Moore’s ‘The Secret of Kells’ is based on the origins of Irelands most famous illustrated manuscript, The Book of Kells. This is clearly noticeable in the film’s stunning artwork influenced by Irish medieval illustrations. Historian Giraldus Cambrensis in the twelfth century described a manuscript (maybe the Book of Kells) in words that could not be more suiting if they were written especially for this film: “Look more keenly at it and you will penetrate to the very shrine of art. You will make out intricacies, so delicate and subtle, so exact and compact, so full of knots and links, with colours so fresh and vivid, that you might say that this was the work of an angel and not a man.”

A wall to save civilisation, a wall to save your book. It is with the strength of our walls, they will come to trust the strength of our faith.

Set in the ninth century, The Secret of Kells follows twelve year old Brendan, a mischievous monk who lives with his uncle, Abbot Cellach. With the Viking hordes approaching, the monks of Kells are forced to turn their attention from transcribing manuscripts to the (quite boring) task of building barricades. To put it the Abbot’s words:”A wall to save civilisation, a wall to save your book. It is with the strength of our walls, they will come to trust the strength of our Faith.”

Secret of

Brendans life is changed forever with the arrival of Brother Aiden at the Abbey of Kells, a celebrated master illuminator who escaped the Vikings and awakens Brendans hidden talent as a miniature illustrator. But with the terrifying Danes closing in, the future of the precious Book of Kells – and the world that Brendan knows – is in jeopardy. It falls to Brendan and the Fairy Aisling to save the day – and the world from darkness. Writing the final chapter of the book will bring light back into the world, but only if the old and new faith combine forces to defeat the ravishing Danish hordes. Have a look at the trailer or click the stills on the right for a larger version.

For me, The Secret of Kells is the ‘Amlie Poulin’ of animation films. It is different, original, colourful, European, not about a princess and a frog, comes with a splendid soundtrack and a cute cat and contains hardly any violence. In short, absolutely brilliant and the best non-CGI animation film I’ve seen for ages. And watching ‘le fabuleux destin de Brendan’ (over and over again) makes me feel utterly happy (over and over again). Each single frame shows superior skill and artistry and the soundtrack is just sublime. So if you are in need of a fable that will illuminate your face, forget about Disney’s ‘The Princess and the Frog’ and go see ‘The Secret of Kells’ instead. This film is historical, in more than one way.

Are there any other must-see (near) ancient history animation films – about the subject or inspired by – you would ? Being the first to suggest a good title I haven’t seen yet (I have seen all from Asterix and Obelix), gets you 10 Ancient World in London points, a complete Top 10 gets you 200. A wrong answer – in this case ‘The Prince of Egypt’ leads to you losing 20 AWiLpoints! 😉