The Secret of Kells

Review by Alice Levick

Directed by

Nora Twomey Tomm Moore

Starring

Brendan Gleeson Christen Mooney Evan McGuire

Anticipation.

An Oscar-nominated animated tale of a boy’s struggle to protect a magical, sacred manuscript. Too worthy? Or the next Castle in the Sky?

Enjoyment.

A feast for the eyes that manages to be both whimsical and sinister.

In Retrospect.

As a metaphor for a boy’s coming-of-age, the film is more successful than as a history of the Book of Kells, which remains somewhat impenetrable and shrouded in mystery.

Nora Twomey and Tomm Moore’s animation fable is a feast for the eyes that manages to be both whimsical and sinister.

The Secret of Kells, a beautifully-observed animated film that manages to be both charming and macabre, details the story of monastic novice Brendan’s (Evan McGuire) struggle to keep the famed Book of Kells alive in the shadow of imminent Viking attack on all he knows of a civilised world, deep inside the walls of Kells.

As a visual representation of a boy’s nascent intellectual autonomy and the power of imagination, it is a treat that brings to mind a vast, eclectic mix of references; from German expressionism (the chiaroscuro and sharp angularity of the Viking raid could have been in an FW Murnau film) to Miyazaki via Lugwig Bemelmans’ Madeline by way of Disney’s The Lion King and even Willo the Wisp.

The attention to detail is impeccable in both background and foreground; in the labyrinthine forest that holds enchantment and terror in equal measure (which, coupled with the faceless horror of the marauding Vikings, makes Secret a kids film that provides both chills and thrills), in the melancholia of a woodland nymph, the subtle anthropomorphism of cats, wolves and geese, and the stunningly realised environs of Kells itself.

Thanks to the fact that Secret is almost entirely hand-drawn, the film is imbued with an old-fashioned, artisan feel that lends itself well to the period of the piece. The Book of Kells is a real artefact – celebrated for its lavish illustrations, the manuscript contains the four Gospels in Latin. The preservation of the Book becomes inextricably linked to Brendan’s maturation, and as the lynchpin of his narrative, it far more successful than as a story in and of itself. Indeed, Brendan’s coming-of-age is intricately realised.

The strained deference he shows his stern, monomaniacal uncle (Brendan Gleeson) slowly gives way to rebellion, and the gradual erosion of his respect for dogmatic, inflexible authority leads him to his enlightenment. But ultimately it is his gloriously ripe imagination, the most cherished remnant of his childhood, that saves him and the Book.

Published 1 Oct 2010

Tags: 2D Animation Nora Twomey Tomm Moore

Anticipation.

An Oscar-nominated animated tale of a boy’s struggle to protect a magical, sacred manuscript. Too worthy? Or the next Castle in the Sky?

Enjoyment.

A feast for the eyes that manages to be both whimsical and sinister.

In Retrospect.

As a metaphor for a boy’s coming-of-age, the film is more successful than as a history of the Book of Kells, which remains somewhat impenetrable and shrouded in mystery.

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