Airing in Canada on Showcase on November 30th, this two part mini-series is a curious mix of modern meets mediaeval mystery-thriller. Based on the 2005 novel by Kate Mosse, the story revolves around Cathars, the Holy Grail and the Crusades.
An archaeology dig is underway when a young woman, Alice Tanner (Vanessa Kirby, BBC’s Great Expectations), is mysteriously drawn to a cave near the dig site. She finds some odd writing and symbols in the cave and comes across and a ring with a labyrinth inscribed on it. As she slips the ring onto her finger, she faints and begins to hear voices. She is attacked by an unseen assailant and cries out for help. Disoriented and bleeding, she staggers out of the cave and into a witch burning in the Middle Ages!
Carcassonne, France, 1209: Flashback to the Middle Ages! a pretty brunette, Alaïs Pelletier du Mas (Jessica Brown-Findlay, Downtown Abbey) wakes from her sleep beside her husband, dons her gown and heads to the river only to find a hand floating in the water.
And so we begin this intriguing little tale of two lives; one modern, one mediaeval, being brought together by a mysterious ring and Cathar secrets. After Alice is found in the cave, she realizes she wasn’t stabbed and there was no fire. She is interrogated by the French authorities about the ring and she claims she lost it.
Meanwhile, back in the Middle Ages, Simon de Montfort (John Lynch, Sliding Doors) and Guy d’Évreaux (Tony Curran, BBC’s The Life) are coming with armed men to wipe out Carcassonne because Innocent III has declared the Cathars a heretical sect that must be eradicated.
Alaïs finds out her father is in possession of one of the three books that hold the secret of the Holy Grail. He is one of three guardians of the grail and he gives her a ring to keep safe with the labyrinth inscribed upon it; a symbol of the grail. He gives her the top secret task of reuniting the books. Unfortunately, her scheming and jealous sister Oriane (Katie McGrath, BBC One’s Merlin)), overhears this conversation. Slighted by her father’s poor opinion of her, and finding out a terrible family secret, she decides to betray Alaïs.
Flash forward, people around Alice start having “bad things happen” to them. Surprise, surprise, Alaïs’s acquaintances suffer the same fate. Alice keeps hearing voices of the past from Alaïs and begins to uncover her 800 year old secret. We leave off with a mediaeval cliffhanger as Alaïs sees the attack on Carcassonne against the Cathars begin, and Malfoy, oops, *coughs* I mean, Viscount Trencavel (played by Tom Felton, Draco Malfoy of Harry Potter fame) gives a Braveheart-esque speech as he defends his Cathar home from Innocent’s Crusaders.
The Good: The Crusades, the Holy Grail, and Cathars. SOLD. Three very interesting topics bound that kept me glued to my screen. If you don’t know who the Cathars were *headdesks*, you’re going to know what the Holy Grail is, and of course, swords and castles. Win-win. Ridley Scott (of the Alien franchise fame) adapted this book to television. Christopher Smith, the man behind Sean Bean’s 2010 mediaeval offering, Black Death, directs. The storyline is curious and both the modern and mediaeval scenes are equally interesting to watch. Kirby, looking a bit like Naomi Watts, does a fairly decent job as the modern lead Alice Tanner. She spends most of her time during part 1 having dizzy spells, hearing voices and having strange things happen around her. Brown-Findlay also gives a good performance as her mediaeval counterpart, Alaïs, who spends most of her time running around collecting books, talking in whispers and carrying around the Labyrinth ring like Frodo.
The Bad: I found the show had a rather harried pace and as a result, it was difficult to follow at times. The constant jumping back and forth was a
little jarring although it’s understandable in order to demonstrate the connection between the past and the present. I just wish they spent more time in each period before jumping back to the alternate story line. It also had too many forgettable side characters that became distracting. There were some terrible lines given to the villains on the show, like “I don’t tolerate failure!”. Ugh. If I had a dollar for every time I heard a villain utter that sentence I’d be a millionaire.
If you’re looking for realism – change the channel. This show isn’t a realistic portrayal of the Middle Ages – with the Grail storyline, it’s firmly set up as a legend with a historical event (the Cathar heresy) as the backdrop. Nonetheless, it is still fun and interesting to watch.
Tune in next Friday on Showcase, for the exciting conclusion of Labyrinth!