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The Secret of Kells
Ravishing animation in so-so Celtic quest story
Reviewed by Robert Alstead
Wednesday, 7 April 2010 - 12:04am
The Book of Kells is one of the oldest Celtic manuscripts dating back to the times when Norsemen terrorised communities along European shores raping and pillaging wherever they went.
The manuscript itself is revered for its intricate and beautifully hand-drawn illustrations, but is surrounded by mystery. The Secret of Kells, drawn in appropriately flowing, exquisite colours, tells the story of how the book survived the marauding invaders that ransacked Kells.
The Abbott of Kells is busy fortifying the abbey compound against the expected Norse invaders. In the midst of their preparations, a master Illuminator drags himself through the Abbey gates after surviving a pillaging of the monastery on the isle of Iona - where St Columba established Scotland's first christian settlement - clutching his unfinished manuscript.
Young, ginger-mopped orphan Brendan, against the wishes of his guardian the Abbott, secretly helps the newcomer, Brother Aidan, complete the magical and powerful work. It's a job that involves dangerous missions beyond the protective walls of the Abbey.
There are beautifully rendered scenes of Brendan gathering rare berries for green ink in the enchanted forest where he meets ferocious four-legged beasts and a playful faerie Aisling. When the authoritative Abbot finds out about Brendan's activities it drives a schism between the two and he locks Brendan up. But the boy has found his vocation and will combat Vikings and a serpent god to find a crystal to complete the Book.
The storyline follows a fairly standard mythical quest trajectory, with gentle humour and a sharing in Brendan's sense of wonderment at this magical world. It's gorgeous to look at, and the dark forces are memorably menacing (too much perhaps so for young children).