While modern adaptations of Greco-Roman mythology abound, movies with direct links to the Celtic tradition can be difficult to find. King Arthur is obviously the most well-known figure of British mythology, but he’ll warrant a post of his own. In the meantime, here are a few of the lesser-known stories with roots in Celtic legend:
This is a movie about an Irish fisherman (Colin Farrell) who finds a mysterious woman in his net. Farrell’s daughter believes the woman might be a selkie, a mythological creature said to shed her seal skin and walk on land as a woman. If a man hides her skin, he can keep her for a wife; but if she ever finds it, she’ll escape back into the sea.
The Mists of Avalon
While I do plan to write an Arthur-specific post, I think Mists of Avalon should be categorized with the Celts. The tv-miniseries was admittedly a terrible bastardization of the book, but the story as it was written focused on paganism and Druidry in Great Britain, rather than the fantasy and chivalry of Camelot. It depicts the Lady of the Lake as the matriarch of a female-centric religion under attack by the oppressive regime of the priests and the intolerance of the “new” Christian religion. Though the book is excellent, I can’t recommend the movie, which caused me actual physical pain with its low production quality and horrific British accents (I’m looking at you, Michael Vartan).
Tristan & Isolde
This story is often wrapped up into the Arthurian legends, but it actually predates them – and probably inspired the story of Lancelot and Guinevere’s romance. The details of the story vary, but the gist is that Isolde is married to King Mark, but in love with Tristan. In some versions they live happily ever after; in others, they bite it Romeo & Juliet-style. Unfortunately that means we’ve pretty much seen every version of the story told before, and told better. This adaptation was pretty lousy (which you probably could have guessed from the fact that the trailer features an Evanescence song), due in large part to the overwhelming sense of tragedy that casts a pall over the entire story. It’s incredibly dour and something of a chore to sit through. The story of Tristan and Isolde (and of Lancelot and Guinevere) is an unhappy one because their love is rooted in the betrayal of a good man they both care for; James Franco’s sullenness doesn’t help matters.
X-Men: First Class
You might have lost track of him amidst all the newbies, but one of the “first class” of Xavier’s mutants was named Banshee. Banshee is capable of ultra-sonic screaming; as the character is Irish, he named himself after the (traditionally female) banshee spirit from Irish mythology, who begins to wail if someone is about to die.
This comic book movie delves deeply into Celtic mythology, using as a villain Prince Nuada, who is modeled after the first king of a mythological, magical Irish race (Tuatha De Danann). The movie itself explores the idea that humanity has been immeasurably damaged by the dismissal of old beliefs and mythologies. Prince Nuada states: “the humans have forgotten the gods, destroyed the Earth – and for what? Parking lots – shopping malls – greed has burned a hole in their chests that can never be filled. They will never have enough…” He also gets some pretty badass fight scenes.
The name Dracula was taken from a Romanian title for Vlad the Impaler (Vlad Dracul/”Vlad the Devil”), a local ruler who fought against the Ottomans. But being an Irishman, it’s possible that Bram Stoker was also influenced to some extent by the story of the Irish vampire Abhartach, an undead ruler who drank the blood of his subjects. A Druid or a Christian saint advised the people to kill him with a sword made of wood, to bury him upside down with a large stone on top, and then to plant thorn trees around the grave.
The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe
C.S. Lewis, another Irishman, was also heavily influenced by Celtic (along with Greek and Norse) mythology, as well as other aspects of Celtic heritage. He incorporated a number of well-known mythological creatures in his Narnia stories, including hags, boggles (or boggarts), white stags, and wooses (woses). The Celts also believed that parallel worlds lay on top of and next to each other, and that you could pass from one to the next (a major theme in the Mists of Avalon, both with the land of the Faerie and the Isle of Avalon itself), which may have inspired the very idea of the portal to Narnia.