31/03/2013 14:10 | By Dan Owen, contributor, MSN TV

Labyrinth: Downton Abbey's Jessica Brown Findlay convinces

TV review: Labyrinth is Channel 4's lavish adaption of Kate Mosse's novel, produced by Ridley and Tony Scott.

Cast of Labyrinth, including Jessica Brown Findlay (© Cast of Labyrinth, including Jessica Brown Findlay Image. Channel 4)


Labyrinth is a German-South African adaptation of Kate Mosse's 2005 medieval fantasy novel.

Vanessa Kirby (Great Expectations) plays a young doctor on a French archaelogical dig who starts having peculiar visions of a teenaged girl from 13th-century Carcassonne (Jessica Brown Findlay, lately Downton Abbey's Lady Sybil).


Ridley Scott and his late brother Tony Scott are attached to his project (as they were Pillars of the Earth, which had a similar aesthetic), and this tends to assure a quality production.

And lo, Labyrinth was definitely beautiful to behold (kudos to Australian cinematographer Robert Humphreys) and blessed with movie-like set designs.


It's hard to single out a particular moment that was outright bad, it's just that Labyrinth is one of those well-meaning dramas that fails to transcend its innate pulpy silliness.

Full review

Labyrinth splits its story between two time periods. In the present day, ostensible heroine Dr Alice Tanner (Vanessa Kirby) is helping with an archaeological dig at the Pit De Soularac in France.

Inside a cave, Alice discovers two skeletons and a strange ring engraved with a labyrinth symbol, before experiencing a frighteningly vivid hallucination of being stabbed in the abdomen. She leaves the cave to witness a mound of bodies being burned by 13th-century knights.

"The core idea of this two-part drama has merit"

In 1209, we're introduced to teenager Alaïs Pelettier (Jessica Brown Findlay). She also appeared in Alice's vision, holding a strange book.

Alaïs is living during a bloodthirsty Crusade against the Cathars (a Christian movement believing human souls are purified by reincarnation) who are prolific in her hometown of Carcasonne.

This is where she resides with her new husband Guilhelm (Emun Elliot), who also happens to be having an affair with her half-sister Oriane (Merlin's Katie McGrath).

The core idea of this two-part drama has merit, even if it carries the unmistakable whiff of a Da Vinci Code-style pot-boiler; it's the kind of nonsense that's easier to accept on the page of a book as a time-filler (digested piecemeal over many weeks), but which struggles when condensed and given life on-screen.

More intriguing than gripping, but even the intrigue began to slip as the drama's first half drew to a close.

Where Labyrinth falls down

I have a feeling Labyrinth works better as a novel, because there was a distinct lack of urgency to this first instalment.

You can only feel mesmerised by mysterious goings-on and French torturers for a short time before you start demanding firm answers.

Although, to be honest, I'd be surprised if most viewers haven't guessed Alice is the modern-day reincarnation of Alaïs. Could their names have made it more obvious?

All we really need to know is how the Holy Grail factors into everything exactly. Didn't I say there were overtones of Dan Brown's Da Vinci Code to this story?

I've seen worse fantasy dramas over the years, but writer Adrian Hodges (Primeval) struggled to adapt the book and prevent it feeling unwieldy and incoherent.

Much of the reason Labyrinth held my interest was simply down to the impressive cast.

John Hurt (Alien, The Elephant Man) tends to get involved with such tosh on a whim, but it was great to see less ubiquitous actors.

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Viewers were treated to the likes of Downton Abbey's Jessica Brown Findlay (Lady Sybil), Harry Potter's Tom Felton, and Merlin's Katie McGrath looking very smart in period clothes.

The latter was especially good in a role not too dissimilar to Merlin's sorceress Morgana (only required to show more nudity).

Less engrossing was Vanessa Kirby as the rather dull Alice, inheriting a house from a dead aunt and drifting around the story looking lost, which was a problem considering she's essentially the show's lead.

Supporting characters like creepy French woman Marie Cecile (Claudia Gerini) in the present were presented in very broad terms.

Like all multi-part dramas, it's unfair to judge Labyrinth until its story has been fully told. There's a chance the concluding half will bring everything together in fascinating ways, while picking up the pace now the exposition's been dealt with.

However, I expected more from this first part, with bigger surprises and a greater sense of urgency and jeopardy affecting Alice's life.

It all looked great and it had some fun moments, but I hope the second part delivers more energy and a sense of amazement.

This costume drama was aesthetically beautiful ($20 million spread over 180 minutes will do that for you); full of decent actors doing their best, but the first half couldn't overcome a pervasive feeling of hammy nonsense.

  • Verdict: Labyrinth had a sense of mystery and intrigue, but that was not enough.

    Star grade

What other reviewers said

The Guardian - "Labyrinth is silly but enjoyable cobblers"

What people on Twitter said

‏@peachesanscream - "Social media is awash with the cries of those who tuned in to Labyrinth last night, only to fine a Bowie-free two-part drama."

‏@oldgoldrich - "For everyone complaining as to how bad #Labyrinth was on #Channel4 last.night, hunt out the #DavidBowie film and enjoy! #dancemagicdance"

@beejaybear9m - "Think I'll give pt 2 a miss - way too complicated for chilled tv viewing #bearoflittlebrain #labyrinth"

The views in this article are those of the author alone and not of MSN or Microsoft

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