Over the past decades, cinema has plundered the mythological canons of many cultures for inspiration. Norse characters like Thor or Loki, Ancient Greek heroes in Troy, 300 or Sinbad – and many more to boot.
However, Celtic stories and legends (which are fertile pickings for aspiring screenwriters, we might add) have been sadly ignored by Hollywood blockbusters for the most part. However, there are definitely some interesting examples out there and we’ve done our best to document a few here.
This intriguing 2009 indie flick stars the suitably Celtic Colin Farrell as Syracuse, a fisherman who discovers a mythical creature called a Selkie in his nets one day. This metamorphic seal-human woman is played by Polish actress Alicja Bachleda.
Selkies have been the subject of Northern Scottish and Irish folklore for hundreds of years and are said to naively beguile men with their legendary beauty. In Ondine, as with many stories about selkies, the plot features an attempt to steal the Selkies seal skin and thus force them to remain in human form with their captor. Ondine is a brilliant modern update on a traditional story, and definitely worth watching for fans of Celtic mythology.
Secret of Kells
A critically acclaimed movie that you might not have heard of – Secret of Kells is an Academy Award nominated animation, produced by a joint team from Ireland, France and Belgium. Beginning in the really existing Abbey of Kells in County Meath, Ireland, the story follows a young medieval Monk called Brendan as he attempts to save the abbey from attacking Vikings. During his quest he discovers the mysterious power of a beautiful religious book – which is also a historically identifiable artefact, called the Book of Kells.
Steeped in genuine history, but with a dose of youthful fantasy added in, this remarkable animation holds a 93% rating on Rotten Tomatoes and does the Celtic theme justice with passionate aplomb. You can certainly tell the reverence and respect the animators and writers who worked on Secret of Kells have for the traditions and stories of early Celtic culture.
The Wicker Man
This iconic 1970s horror movie is widely regarded as one of the best British movies of all time. Starring Edward Woodland and Brit Ekland, as well as Cristopher Lee as the imperious and menacing main villain, the Wicker Man follows a tale of Celtic pagan intrigue and sacrifice on a small Scottish island in the Outer Hebrides. These islands are one of the last remaining areas dominated by Gaelic speaking Scots in the north of the UK. Combine that with the eerie remoteness of them and you have a great setting for a mysterious and nerve-jangling story.
Culminating in the burning of a giant wicker man, no spoilers, this film is a true classic of British cinema – although it doesn’t necessarily paint Celtic beliefs in too nice of a light. Still, many will appreciate the amazing cinematography and tense soundtrack of this excellent film. Let’s just all agree to forget about the disastrous Hollywood remake of 2006, ok?