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Kate Mosse discusses turning 'Labyrinth' from a hit novel into a CW mini-series

Emun Elliott, Jessica Brown-Findlay, Katie McGrath, and Tom Felton in "Labyrinth."
Emun Elliott, Jessica Brown-Findlay, Katie McGrath, and Tom Felton in "Labyrinth."
2011 Tandem Productions GmbH & Film Afrika Worldwide (Pty) Limited South, with permission

American fans of Kate Mosse's Labyrinth novel will finally get the chance to see the time-bending miniseries when it kicks off The CW's summer programming over two nights: Thursday, May 22 and Friday, May 23. The four-hour film follows the lives of two women -- one in Medieval Carcassonne, France and the other in modern-day France -- in their quest for the Holy Grail.

The story opens in present day France at an archeological dig in the French Pyrenees when Alice (Vanessa Kirby), a volunteer, makes a discovery that causes an earthquake, opening up a long-buried cave that holds an 800-year-old mystery and two skeletons.

Then we're back in Carcassonne in the year 1209, when 17-year-old Alaïs (Jessica Brown-Findlay) is given a mysterious book by her father; a book which he claims contains the secret of the true Grail. Although Alaïs cannot understand the book's strange words and labyrinth symbols, her father instructs her to protect it no matter what happens to him. Alaïs realizes that her destiny lies in keeping the secret of the labyrinth safe.

Then we're back in modern-day when Alice, too, is puzzled by the labyrinth symbol carved into the rock of the cave. Even as Alice realizes she's stirred up something that was meant to remain hidden, her ties to the past are revealed.

In an interview to promote the mini-series' U.S. debut, Mosse spoke one-on-one with about her decision to let her novel be turned into a film, which characters embody her vision the most, and why she wrote the book as a time-flip novel.

A lot of writers don't want to turn their vision over to someone else. What made you decide it was okay to film Labryinth?

My agent had been approached many times and had always said no, because I felt the book was too long, too complicated and it would have to be changed too much. But [the decision to go ahead] was really because of the vision that the whole team had at Tandem Communications and Scott Free Productions for making this film. Once we started talking to them and they said, "We will absolutely respect the history. We understand what matters about the story is that it is led by women and that it is the echo of a place 800 years apart. Obviously, there will be changes but we will do a version of what you've done but in a different format." At that point, I thought, "These guys have got an idea of how to make it into a [film].

For me, the only reason to turn any of your novels into a piece of cinema or television is to bring more readers to the book. I felt with this partnership more people might come to the books through seeing it on the screen. I am a novelist, not a screenwriter, and it is about reading. Certainly, after we had broadcast it in the U.K. last year, I received thousands of emails from young women and men saying, "We never read your books, but we loved the film so we bought them." For me, that was the purpose of it.

Who in the cast embodies your vision the most?

Alaïs, who is the young Medieval hero. She was absolutely the first character that came to me. Having researched the history of Catharism for many years before I started writing, what struck me most about it was that 800 years ago in France, there was a form of Christianity that had females as well as males as priests.

I was writing in the context of big battles in the U.K. about the ordination of women. My aunt, who sadly passed away a couple of years ago, is one of the founders of the movement for the ordination of women in the Anglican Church in the U.K., so it is a subject very close to my heart and my family. To know that there were women priests in this religion that was wiped out in Carcassonne all these years ago is, I think, one of the historical things that intrigued me most.

Out of that, therefore, a female character came and tapped me on the shoulder. Of course, Alais is not a Cathar priest. She is in that world, but she is the person who led me through that story. It was through her that I could discover all of the history and the story that I wanted to tell.

Secondarily, I suppose was Audric Baillard (John Hurt), the old man, because he, I suppose, epitomizes what I feel is so wonderful about the southwest of France. It is a timelessness, the idea that there is a spirit in the people of the southwest of France, a spirit in the land that is endurance. It goes on from generation to generation. So in a funny sort of way, Baillard is the conscience of the south.

Those were the two characters that were very vivid in my mind a long time before I ever started writing the novel. I didn't recognize them at first. I didn't know who they were at first, but as I started to write, they were the ones that appeared.

Why split it between modern times and the Middle Ages?

I didn't make a decision that I wanted to write what is known as a time-flip novel. All that means is that both periods happen live on the page to the reader, rather than being a flashback, which is quite common in historical fiction. It think there are two reasons: I think the story came to be like that because when you are in Carcassonne -- we've had a house there for 25 years and lived part of the year there for 25 years, and I brought my children up there. All of my adult writing life has been partly spent in Carcassonne -- so there is a real sense on every single street corner that the city lives in the shadow of the past. Not just the history of the Cathars and the Medieval period, but my most recent novel, Citadel, set during the second World War. I think all of the time you are there, you are thinking of the people who have walked this way before you. They don't feel dead and gone. You feel a living history.

Secondly, I think it is because of the way the story came to me. I fell in love with Carcassonne when we first went there and it is somewhere that means an enormous amount to me, as does my hometown. I wanted to have some of the joy and the excitement of discovering Carcassonne through modern eyes. When you write purely historical fiction, much of the joy of discovery of history, you cannot use. Because if everybody lives there, it is their day-to-day life. It is so hard to write what it looks like to see the Medieval city from the distance of time because it is your home and it doesn't look the same as it does now. Where with the dual time frame, you are able to investigate the past and think about how the past affects us. For me, Alais and Alice are two women separated by 800 years who are telling the same story. Even though they never meet, what I loved about the adaptation was seeing them both put on the screen together.

We filmed the very end of the movie is a scene set in Montségur, where the Cathars died in March 1244, and I am in it. I am the tour guide. At that moment, I am giving a little lecture as I guide around the castle. I was standing doing this, and in one corner of my eye I could see Jessica Brown-Findlay, who stars as Alaïs, and in the other, I could see Vanessa Kirby, who stars as Alice. We had to stop because it made me cry. I feel so strongly about the south and that the spirit of both women goes on and on and it connects us across 800 years.

"Labyrinth" premieres on The CW on Thursday, May 22 at 8 p.m. ET/PT and concludes on Friday, May 22 at 8 p.m. ET/PT on The CW.

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