I was saddened to hear the news that John Hurt, one of Britain’s finest actors, had died. What to watch from such a body of work to mark his passing? Quite apart from his memorable performances in The Elephant Man, The Naked Civil Servant, and Alien, to name but a few, he was in the Harry Potter films – not to mention playing the War Doctor in the Doctor Who 50th anniversary special.
But as a Labyrinth fan, it had to be The Storyteller.
This little gem from 1987 is nine episodes of what I feel is the most perfectly realised television series ever made. Recently re-released on DVD, after being unavailable for ages, it’s well worth a look.
Created by Jim Henson, it’s a retelling of European folk tales in a blend of live action, puppets, and animation. The stories aren’t the traditional Grimm tales but other less familiar ones from Ireland, Russia and Scandinavia, with scripts beautifully written by the award-winning Anthony Minghella.
John Hurt is the storyteller of the title, narrating the tales, and occasionally interacting with them – and his grouchy canine companion. He does it so well (despite having to do so beneath quite a bit of makeup) that you wonder why he didn’t do more narration. There’s a host of British actors, including Bob Peck, Jonathan Pryce, Miranda Richardson.
Labyrinth links – the storyteller’s dog is voiced by Brian Henson, and sounds a lot like Hoggle. Brian Froud was conceptual designer on the pilot episode, Hans My Hedgehog. Three of the episodes were directed by Steve Barron, who directed the music videos for Underground and As the World Falls Down. A lot of the designers in Jim Henson’s Creature Shop also worked on Labyrinth.
And if you needed any more reason to watch it, Sean Bean’s in one story – and he doesn’t die!