Female protagonist? Check times two. A time period when everyone rides horses? Sure. Cool jewelry? Got it. When the CW acquired “Labyrinth,” a four-hour miniseries executive produced by Scott Free (Ridley and Tony Scott's company), CW president Mark Pedowitz called this a “fun companion piece” to the series “Reign.” I'm not sure I would call “Labyrinth” fun, but I guess if you think 1209 and 1542 are more or less the same time period, well, then why not snap up this project?
But to say “Labyrinth” and “Reign” are of the same species is sort of like saying giraffes and lions should be caged together since they're all zoo animals and, as such, should get along swimmingly. Fans of the book by Kate Mosse will probably be put off (or have already seen this, as it aired in the U.K. and in Canada years ago), and fans of “Reign” expecting an obvious companion piece will tune out before the first half of the show (the first half airs Thurs. May 22 at 8:00 p.m. ET).
Whenever a book is adapted to film, especially a complex book with internal storytelling elements, two separate time periods with interwoven storylines, and a protagonist who seems to be pulled into the past by methods that don't entirely lend themselves to a visual interpretation, it's not an easy ride. For anyone who hasn't read the book, the first half hour will be testing. A lot of information about an archeological dig in the present, a religion-based genocide in 1209 and some devious characters in both eras is thrown at viewers. Short of someone waving a magic wand and making this an 8-hour miniseries, I'm not sure if there's a fix for throwing a lot of information at people and hoping they just stick it out. Still, that's a lot to ask.
What's more troubling, though, is that the CW thinks that any project that takes place in a time period of kings and kings and wars fought with shields is just a natural fit for fans of “Reign.” While many history buffs love the show and might naturally gravitate toward “Labyrinth,” people (especially young women) who watch “Reign” for a longer list of reasons will not find what they're looking for in “Labyrinth.”
This isn't a story of palace intrigue (though there is a complex story about three books, a ring and the Holy Grail), and the setting is far muddier than what you'll see in “Reign.” Don't look for any sumptuous gowns here. While “Reign” has had an entire season to dig into complexities of plot and changing alliances, “Labyrinth” has not one but two storylines — the past and the present — that must be skidded through at great speed, and not always gracefully. While there are elements that surely played out more logically on the page (such as Will and Alice's relationship), on screen they aren't as convincing.
Still, with a cast like this, no character comes off looking a fool. Sebastian Stan, Jessica Brown Findlay, John Hurt, Vanessa Kirby, Tom Felton (Draco Malfoy in “Harry Potter” actually plays a good guy here and does it well) — the list goes on. It's not the cast you'd expect to see on the CW, but hey, a lot of them are wearing chain mail and big dresses, so it's perfect for this network, right?
Vanessa Kirby does her best with a difficult role — for the first half of “Labyrinth” Alice is mostly tasked with wandering around and wondering why she keeps hallucinating the 13th century — while Jessica Brown Findlay has a somewhat easier job of playing the unlucky Alais. But romance is definitely not on the front burner or, for a long while, on the page at all, though there is some implied sex. Initially plenty of things happen to our two female leads, but they're mostly on the receiving end of bad luck. For quite a while, they're at the mercy of plot, not manipulating it themselves. You'll despise Oriane (Katie McGrath), but at least she's anything but passive.
As you'd expect, the action scenes are spot on and it's a cobblestone-aganza of gorgeous settings. The story hits its stride by the second half of the first night, and those who stick it out will likely be hooked. I'm sure this wasn't a hugely expensive acquisition for the CW (given that the miniseries has already aired elsewhere), so I'm sure whatever tune-in they get will be fine. But next time the network looks for a “fun companion piece,” they may want to think about what makes their existing programming click with viewers.
Will you watch “Labyrinth,” or have you already seen it?