Movie Review: The Secret of Kells

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 The Secret of Kells, an Irish film set in the Middle Ages, was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Animated Feature – and for good reason – it is an excellent story and wonderfully drawn. Both kids and their parents will love this film!

The movie begins by showing life at the monastery of Kells, largely through the eyes of Brendan, a twelve-year old boy. He and his fellow monks seem to live a peaceful and happy life, but you soon understand that danger is approaching. Brendan, while bright and curious, has never been outside the walls of Kells, and knows little of the outside world. Abbot Cellach, his uncle, is seemingly only concerned with strengthening the massive walls that protect the Abbey, and is unhappy with his nephew’s behaviour and forbids him to go outside of Kells.

Soon the monastery receives a visitor – Brother Aidan from Iona, who brings with him the Book of Iona. Aidan is a master illuminator and all the other monks show him great respect. Aidan, having fled Iona when it was attacked by the Vikings/Northmen, has come to Kells to find someone who can continue the work of writing and illustrating the Book of Iona. He convinces Brendan to go outside the monastery to help him find items that will help with the illuminations. This leads Brendan to enter the forests where he finds new adventures, wonders, dangers and a friend – a girl named Aisling, who is a kind of fairie creature that becomes a great white wolf and is the protector of the forest.

As Brendan overcomes challenges in the forest and at the abbey, the Viking threat gets closer, setting the film on a somewhat dark path. This is not a Disney story set in the Middle Ages – bad things happen, and it will give children a sense of how difficult and dangerous life could be during the Middle Ages.

The plot and events can be a little confusing for younger children, but they will enjoy the interactions between Brendan and Aisling. There are also images of violence, but they are mostly kept off-screen, which actually can make it a little scarier – the Vikings themselves are dark and shadowy figures.

What is most compelling about The Secret of Kells is the efforts made by the filmakers to incorporate medieval and Irish mythological imagery into it – you get many scenes that are inspired by the pages from the actual Book of Kells. A medievalist like myself will really appreciate the beauty of this film!

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Sharan Newman