The Secret of Kells – Tomm Moore – 2009 2


The Secret of Kells CoverOriginal title: The Secret of Kells
Rating: 3.5 Stars
Year: 2009
Director: Tomm Moore, Nora Twomey
Duration: 75 min.
Genre: Animation, Fantasy

The Secret of Kells

As a European citizen I often wonder where all the good films about our rich history are hiding. Sure, world war films are everywhere, but when we look back to the 19th century and before there really isn’t all that much considering how much has happened in Europe over the last 2 or 3 millennia. As a lover of Japanese cinema, I have been treated to many different films about the history of Japan, or their many folk tales. I do not know of a whole lot of similarly good films about Europe’s past. That is why I am so happy that in recent years we have been treated by two beautifully animated Celtic folk tales. The Secret of Kells is the first of the two, and recently it was followed by the even better Song of the Sea.

The reason I say that is because of the abrupt ending to The Secret of Kells. It’s almost as if they ran out of money before the story was told. That is probably the film’s greatest flaw. Other than that the music is wonderful and the animation is beyond enchanting. The story is – unsurprisingly – that of the legendary Book of Kells. The book actually exists, but it is unclear who exactly wrote it, or when. So this film provides a possible answer in the tale of an old scribe who takes a young boy – Brendan – under his wing. In the meanwhile the ruler of the city of Kells is building enormous walls around his city, in fear of the savage vikings who are pillaging all the villages. Through a small opening in the walls and through some tunnels, young Brendan is able to go into the forest surrounding the city. There he meets the mysterious Aisling (pronounced Ashling), whom he befriends.

Adventures ensue, but like I said the main problem with this film is the abrupt ending to it all. Nearing the end of the film, things suddenly speed up drastically and everything is wrapped up. It takes you by surprise and to be honest it isn’t a very satisfying end because of it. Luckily the animation style and music make up for most of this, but one does wonder what would’ve happened if they took an extra 15 minutes or so to wrap things up nicely. I think it would’ve made the film an absolute animation classic, while now it’s just a very good film. Nevertheless I highly recommend The Secret of Kells because of the magical atmosphere that is created. As an example, watch this scene with the beautiful song Pangur Bán – the name of the cat. That alone is more than enough of a reason to watch it, also knowing that Moore’s next film, Song of the Sea, does not suffer from a similar abrupt ending.

The Secret of Kells

So while writing this piece a few films did come to mind. Spartacus is one, or one of the many attempts at Jane Eyre or The Phantom of the Opera. There are some Shakespeare films, although perhaps the best one is – again – from Japan. A few other ones I could think of include Braveheart (ugh..) Nosferatu, Marketa LazarováThe Name of the Rose, Die Nibelungen, The Seventh Seal and The Passion of Joan of Arc. OK, so maybe it isn’t all bad, but do notice that most of these films are from the 1920’s to the 1960’s at the latest. That’s why I’m still happy to see the genre hasn’t completely died. CGI-less (!) scenes of knights going to battle, such as this one from the Russian film Aleksandr Nevskiy or some of the battle scenes from Die Nibelungen are pretty great.


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2 thoughts on “The Secret of Kells – Tomm Moore – 2009

  • Ruth

    I think Tomm Moore is working in the tradition of Irish folktales, which have often blended stories of saints and fairies. My opinion is that the fairy elements in the story work well given the context, and it is the Catholic faith that has the last word.