If the latest hit dramas are anything to go by, TV appears to have had a medieval makeover. Thanks to series like Game of Thrones, set to return in the UK this weekend, historical dramas have held a more thrilling appeal than ever. So, this Easter it was time to forget the usual ‘family friendly films’ and tune in to Channel 4’s thrill-seeking adaptation of Kate Mosse’s best-selling novel Labyrinth.
I expected a predictable quest for the Holy Grail, with confusing time jumps and boring heroines. I instead found myself engrossed in a two-part drama of conspiracy, lust and destiny with dangerous religious cults and dark family secrets.
Labyrinth boasts an impressive cast. The adaptation stars strong female leads by Vanessa Kirby, former Downton Abbey star Jessica Brown Findlay and Merlin star Katie McGrath opposite the established names of John Hurt, Tony Curran and Harry Potter’s Tom Felton. The historical adventure itself followed two main characters; heroines born centuries apart but united by their link to the Grail.
In July 1209, 17 year old Alais Pelletier (Findlay) finds her tranquil life to be under threat. Living in Carcassone, a stronghold of the Cathars, her people are in conflict with the Pope and face invasion from armies of the Church. Furthermore, her father is one of the last guardians of the Grail and, facing military trouble, decides to pass his ancient secret onto his daughter. Told that the location of the Grail is contained within three books, and possessing one herself, she is warned that she must stop the other two from being found. But her jealous, power-hungry sister Oriane (McGrath) is intent on destroying both Alais and her plans in order to find the Grail herself.
The second story within Labyrinth is set in the familiar modern day and follows PhD graduate/amateur archaeologist Alice Tanner (Kirby). Discovering a labyrinth-engraved ring and two skeletons in a cave near the site of an old Cathar settlement, Alice’s life is suddenly placed in danger. As religious shadows hunt Alice, she realises that she’s disturbed something that should have remained hidden. Haunted by dreams and visions of Alais, she is compelled to find out more and sets out to discover the disturbing secrets of the Grail, uncovering in the process the alarming link to her own past.
With scenes of brutal murder and lusty sex, this was so much more than a boring tale of religion and history. As each heroine’s lives come under threat, relationships and loyalties are tested. The modern day story features plot twists a-plenty to keep nerves running high as religious cults and police forces merge until poor Alice has no clue who she can trust. Although the second part felt a little lengthy with an ending far too magical and unrealistic for my liking, the adaptation as a whole was fantastically produced. Some consideration clearly went into the filming of the time slips, creating a smooth fusion of the two stories which avoided any plot confusion.However, big chunks of the almost 700-page book had clearly been cut, and it would have been good to see the development of certain characters like Trencavel (Felton) and Sajhë (Matthew Beard) who harbours a love for close friend Alais that is mentioned only fleetingly towards the end of the drama.
Nevertheless, the casting was a triumph to Mosse’s character descriptions. Findlay shone as the angelic yet brave Alais and after another delightfully wicked performance by McGrath, it is now impossible for me to imagine her as anything other than a villain. Although the majority female cast might suggest that this is a programme aimed at the fairer sex, rest assured it has enough murder and mystery to entertain even the surliest male…