It’s finally happened. After years of wishing for it, willing it with enough might to rupture a few organs, and countless unrequited ideas pitches (despite already working for them as a subeditor), I’ve written a piece for the Guardian. I’d always promised myself that if it ever did happen, I wouldn’t read the comments after seeing so many scathing remarks on there. But actually everyone was really nice which made me feel pretty smugface.
You can read the piece online here, or I’ve published the raw, unedited version below.
Why I’d like to be … Jennifer Connolly in Labyrinth
I can’t remember the first time I saw Jim Henson’s magical animatronic adventure, Labyrinth. I was not quite two when it was released in 1986, but my parents are massive David Bowie fans so it’s not surprising I was introduced to it fairly early on. I was hooked immediately, and watched our VHS copy – complete with adverts, having been recorded off the telly – so many times it eventually warped and then snapped.
I would shut all the doors to the living room of our small London flat leaving my parents trapped in their bedroom, put the film on and act out each scene from memory as it played, pausing only to shout “don’t come in” as my parents inevitably tried to get out.
I was, of course, pretending to be Jennifer Connolly’s Sarah, the imaginative, if immature, teen who is struggling to adjust to life with her father’s new family and to her sisterly responsibilities to new baby, Toby.
Like my child self, Sarah is somewhat of a fantasist – she escapes the tedium of US suburbia by retreating to her books, reciting passages from her favourite, The Labyrinth: “Through dangers untold and hardships unnumbered, I have fought my way here to the castle beyond the goblin city to take back the child that you have stolen.”
However, when she accidentally calls upon the story’s cruel Goblin King, Jareth – played by Bowie – to take Toby away, she’s forced to embark on an expedition through a seemingly nonsensical labyrinth to rescue her half-brother from the castle beyond the goblin city.
But this isn’t just a story about fiction becoming a reality, or goblins and Bowie’s impressive trouser-bulge, for Sarah, this is a journey into womanhood. As she passes through the labyrinth, she learns to cast aside the oft-repeated cry of “it’s not fair” and instead to tackle its deadly challenges and baffling riddles through logic, friendship and bravery – she is growing up.
She befriends various bizarre creatures and this motley crew – Hoggle: a particularly ugly dwarf, Ludo: a slightly dim, giant fur monster and Sir Didymus: a heroic fox-terrier knight who rides an old English sheepdog – provided me with company while watching as an only child, but as a teenager it was Sarah’s ability to make sense of a world that didn’t make sense that drew me to her. Burgeoning new sexual desires had sent my head spinning and my body was quickly changing. People suddenly treated me differently, men looked at me differently and London was opening up as an overwhelming city in a way it never had before. I was scared and confused, but Sarah’s perseverance in the labyrinth gave me courage, and still inspires me to keep going when things get tough.
It’s this cusp between childhood and adulthood, between hedonism and maturity that Jennifer Connolly – 15 at the time of shooting – captures so beautifully. She is confident and good looking, yet not as overtly sexual as women are so often betrayed on screen – a much stronger female role model than many available even today. However, the sexual tension between Sarah and the controlling Jareth is hard to ignore, despite Labyrinth being considered a children’s film. When she finally reaches the castle he begs her: “Just fear me. Love me. Do as I say and I will be your slave.” But Sarah resists his attempts to seduce her. She has learnt that she’s in control – that she’s now responsible for her own destiny.
“My kingdom is great. You have no power over me,” she replies, remembering the words from her book and Jareth’s kingdom dissolves. It’s a line I often repeat to myself when dealing with real-life goblins.