Expect jeopardy, twisted love stories, beautiful landscapes and beardy men wielding swords in Labyrinth, Channel 4’s new three-part fantasy series, produced by Ridley Scott. Starring Tom Felton (Harry Potter), Jessica Brown Findlay (Downton Abbey) andVanessa Kirby (Great Expectations) the epic tale jumps between medieval France and the modern day, and follows two female leads from both timeframes, who get caught up in a larger quest for power. Writer Kate Mosse speaks about being on the set of the show in Carcassonne, France and Cape Town, South Africa…
How’s the series turned out, are you happy with it?
There is fabulous acting from our all-star cast and when I saw a rough cut, I cried because I was so grateful. It really did feel like my novel come to three-dimensional life. Fingers crossed that readers and fans of the novel will be as delighted as I am. Both the 13th-century scenes and the modern scenes look fabulous and I think it shows that we had a great time making it. Does it live up to the book?
Absolutely – the strangest thing was hearing incredible actors such as John Hurt, Jessica Brown Findlay and Tom Felton speaking my lines. It’s a difficult process taking characters from page to screen and trying to digest an 180,000-word novel that has millions of readers worldwide into a mere five hours of television. Ridley Scott and Tandem put together a terrific team, not least of all the screenwriter Adrian Hodges and the director Christopher Smith. They were passionate about the novel, referred to it all the time and worked tirelessly to make their vision ofLabyrinth the very best it could be.
You shot the series in Africa and Europe. Does the scenery in the series work for the story? How much of a part in that did you have?
Although the majority of filming was done in Cape Town, we started on location in the medieval site itself, which inspired my novel in the first place. Ten days in the autumn sunshine in 2011, with local friends and neighbours stepping in as extras, shooting scenes in the Cathédrale Saint-Nazaire, the Hotel de la Cité, the cobbled streets of the fortified city and the modern pavements of the Bastide, the lower town, and in Toulouse too. Then, in association with Film Afrika, we built an extraordinary replica of the medieval city in the South African Film Studio lot – complete with working forge, a market, and a castle. We did film some of the modern scenes on location in Carcassonne itself.
You used to live in France, so you must have had a bit of inside knowledge on the filming locations?
Yes, on and off in Carcassonne for 23 years, and having spent so many years researching and writing my Languedoc Trilogy, it was an odd experience watching them film, for example, the chase scene in the old Cimetière de la Cité and remembering how, more than ten years ago, I’d run up and down the same alleyways between the tombstones when I was writing that scene, just to work out how long it took to get from one side to the safety of the other. We also filmed all the river scenes in the beautiful village of Lagrasse, in the Minervois region, then – most emotional scene of all for me – the final climax in the Pyrenées in the mountain fortress of Montségur itself.
Did you get to do any cameos?
I’m in that final scene – playing a tour guide. And I have lines, although I had to provide my own costume. It was an incredible privilege. When the director, Christopher Smith, said the words “It’s a wrap for Kate”, it felt like one of the most exciting working experiences of my life. I predict a BAFTA for best newcomer, not!
You live in the UK now, but when you do go overseas what do you never leave home without?
I always have a notebook and lots and lots of pens, so that I can jot down what I see, what I feel, what little nuggets of history or possible inspiration I might come across. Novelists are rather like magpies, collecting everything and anything in case in comes in useful later. Oh, and comfortable shoes too.
What’s your best piece of travelling advice?
Although you should plan a trip before you go, once you’re on your way, try to live in the moment. Enjoy every minute of it, be flexible and open-minded, take every experience in your stride rather than comparing it with someone else’s impressions. Respect the countries you visit and the people you meet, listen and look, learn everything you can. And, of course, carry a notebook so that when you’re back in the cold, you can remember what you saw and how you felt about it.
What’s your favourite destination and why?
Carcassonne, of course. I need a ‘fix’ of Carcassonne several times a year. Whenever I arrive and I see the medieval city ahead on the hill, on the far side of the river Aude, with its 52 towers and turrets and battlements, I sigh with relief. The beautiful blue of the Midi sky, the snow on the Pyrenees in the distance, the particular quality of light as the sun sinks down to earth at dusk, the sweeping green of the vines in the summer and yellow sunflowers. It always feels like coming home.
If you could time travel to any place in any time where would it be?
Jerusalem in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. Although Labyrinth is set in 13th-century France, rather than in the Holy Land, Jerusalem is always there in the background, just outside the pages of the novel. I’d love to experience what it was like for myself. Where do you go and what do you usually do on holiday?
I do love lying in the sun by a swimming pool and doing nothing but reading, talking, eating and drinking. After a few days of that, though, I get bored. So although I do love the heat, I suppose my favourite holiday is exploring a new city on foot. Most recently, I visited New York, Oslo, Athens, Amsterdam and Paris with my husband and grown-up children. I adore the feeling of being free to do what we want, to go into museums or theatres, bookshops or restaurants, just trying to get under the skin of a new place.
What are you working on next?
I’ll be announcing my new book in a few weeks’ time – published in the UK in autumn 2013. I’m also working on a big history play, set in 12th century Jerusalem, about the battle between two queens and their courts. My work is all about shining a spotlight on forgotten women’s history, so this is a project I’m really excited about.