Twelve-year-old red-haired Brendan lives in a small village, which is preparing itself for a Viking invasion. His parents are dead and his guardian is his uncle, an abbot and the head of the village. He is intent on building a wall all the way around the village to keep it safe from the Vikings and assumes that Brendan will help him. Brendan is an apprentice in the scriptorium and is good friends with the monks, who tell tales of Aidan of Iona, a great illuminator, who is working on the Book of Iona. Iona is a small island near Kells.
Brother Aidan later comes to seek shelter in the village with his white kitten Pangur Ban and the unfinished book of Iona. Wanting to carry on his work on the book, Aidan sends Brendan into the forest to look for berries to make green ink, even though Brendan has been forbidden to enter the forest by his uncle. He wants to impress Brother Aidan though, so he takes a bag and sneaks out through a hole in the scaffolding holding up the wall. He has never been outside the village before. In the forest, which looks menacing at first but is beautiful if you know where to look, he meets a forest spirit called Aisling. Aisling can control everything in the forest- it is hers. She shows him where to look for the berries and helps him climb a tree for the first time. To start with she is hostile towards him, believing that he has come to steal her forest, but soon she realises that he is just an innocent boy and she befriends him.
Trying to sneak back into the village, he is caught by his uncle and banned from leaving the abbey where he and his uncle live. Brendan finds it too hard to stay away from the scriptorium though, and goes there to see Brother Aidan and be taught illumination. Later he ventures into the forest again and meets Aisling, who shows him more of the forest- the parts that you can go into without a fear, and the parts that you can’t. Brendan makes the mistake of entering the temple of Crom Cruach, who is an ancient Celtic deity. It is like a cave, and he would have got stuck inside it had Aisling not saved him. Brendan finds out that Aidan needs his help to finish the book, as he is growing old and his eyesight is failing him. He has lost the Eye of Collum-Cille, which is an eye-shaped crystal that he had used to do the finer detail on his work (it acted like a magnifying glass). His ancestor had got it from Crom Cruach. He knows where he lost it- he was running away from the burning Kells and it must have fallen out of his bag. One of the attacking Vikings stood on it and it shattered as he ran for his boat to try to get away.
Brendan realises that the book can only be completed properly if he obtains the other eye, so he tries to get out of the village to go to the shrine to get the other eye. He is caught and locked in his room by the abbot, and as far as he can see there is no way out. But aisling manages to free him, and together they go to try and take the eye from Crom Cruach, not knowing whether or not their mission is going to be successful…
I really enjoyed this film. I first saw it at the London Children’s Film Festival several years ago, where I was a Young Juror. I had to review the film after I saw it on the big screen, so this is my second time reviewing it. I loved the way all the illuminations came to life and I loved the animation style, which was brightly coloured in the appropriate places but dark and terrifying in others.
The storyline was original and interesting, but my only complaint was that the voices of the characters are slightly emotionless, and it sometimes made me come out of the film and think, ‘This is very believable’. It is really a young children’s film, but it interested me and inspired me to look at some more medieval illumination. It could also interest adults, because the storyline is gripping and the animation is good. It’s the kind of film you might watch as a family or show to young children. It was amazing on the big screen! My favourite scene was when Aisling shows Brendan the forest and is comes to life it beautiful bright colours. I would have enjoyed this film more if I was slightly younger, but it was still very good and I definitely advise that you watch it!
Estimated watching age: 8 and up
Price on Amazon: £5.67 for normal DVD, no BluRay that I can see
Producer: Tomm Moore, Didier Brunner, Paul Young and Viviane Vanfleteren
Director: Tomm Moore, Nora Twomey
Film certificate: PG
Names of the people who play the main characters: There are none, it’s an animation
Rating: ★★★ I would have enjoyed it more if I was a bit younger but it is perfect for young children