Friday, 24 March 2017

Adaptation: World Animation - Ireland: The Secret of Kells

The Secret of Kells is a 2009 Irish animated film directed by Tomm Moore and Nora Twomey, which loosely tells the origin story of the Irish Abbey settlement of Kells, and the creation of The Book Of Kells,  an illuminated manuscript Gospel book in Latin, containing the four Gospels of the New Testament - an Irish national treasure.

The protagonist is Brendan, a young and curious boy living in the Abbey of Kells, under the care of his uncle Abbot Cellach who is consumed with his obsession of making the abbey safe from viking attacks by continually building a wall around it, separating them from the outside world and surrounding forest. Brendan is apprenticed in the scriptorium of the monastery and also cared for by the monks, and reveres the fabled Brother Aiden, who soon arrives at Kells with his cat Pangur Ban after the destruction of his own monastery, the creator of the famous book of Iona, by legend the most beautiful book in creation, bringing with him the unfinished Book of Kells, a book to rival the Book of Iona and bring light to darkness.

Brendan soon becomes apprentice to elderly Brother Aidan who has become unable to work on The Book of Kells due to his age and failing health, and the loss of the Eye of Colm Cille, a special magnifying lens captured from Crom Cruach. Aiden ventures out into the surrounding forest in search of specific berries to make green ink with for the book, and meets the forest spirit Aisling, who soon accepts him into her forest and aids in in his quest, showing him the beauty of nature, however they encounter the dark spirit  Crom Cruach whop brings darkness and death to the forest and barely escape. 

Once back in the Abbey Brendan is reprimanded by Abbot Cellach for going beyond the walls and forbids him from leaving again. However Aiden wants to help Brother Aiden continue to work on the Book of Kells, and believes he can find another eye in Crom Crauch's lair, but is caught leaving the Abbey by his uncle, who locks him away in the Abbeys tower. Pangur Ban who has beome close with Aiden alerts Aisling to Brendans entrapment and they set him free and run to the woods, where Brendan convinces Aisling to help him try and capture another eye, despite Aislings pleas for him not to battle with Crom Crauch, fearing he will not live. Aisling nevertheless helps him into Crom Crauch's lair, nearly being killed herself in the process, where Brendan battles the dark deity and blinds it by stealing the other eye, in turn making crom Crauch become an ouroboros.

Brendan returns to the Abbey and begins working on the Book of Kells with Brother Aiden, much to the dismay of Abbott Cellach, who rips out the page Brendan has pinstakingly inked and locks the pair in the scriptorium. Shortly after, Vikings envade the Abbey and breach the walls, the people are unprepared and unable to defend themselves, Abott Cellach is struck down and watches in horror as the scriptorium goes up in flames, unbeknown to him however both Aiden and Brendan have managed to escape the Abbey. Abbot Cellach survives his injuries however believes his nephew to be dead and falls into a deep depression.

Years pass as Brendan and Aidan travel Ireland, and eventually complete the book of Kells. It is entrusted to the now adult Brother Brendan once Aidan passes, who then returns to the site of what he believed to be the completely destroyed Abbey of Kells, however there he finds his uncle still alive, ridden with guilt, still cherishing the first page inked by Aidan he tore out years before, and the pair happily reunite over the completed Book of Kells.

This film is unmistakably Irish and filled with Irish pride, evident not just in the contents of the story but in the way the animation has been produced. The visuals of this film have been carefully considered and painstakngly brought to life to deliver a visually beautiful masterpiece. All elements of the animation echo the artwork of the Book of Kells itself (example page image below), and the deeper you look the more considerationa nd reason you find within the stunning artwork. Even the character designs themselves mimic traits and themes of the story, Abbott Chellach himself being a prime example of this, his bodyshape and colouring mimicing that of his abbey towers stained glass window, similarly do the silhouettes and designs of the other Monks of Kells.

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