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Labyrinth sequel: the Goblin King conundrum

Written by Film

Labyrinth was for me was just one of those films which I fell in love with. At eight years old, I didn’t know who David Bowie was, or who Jim Henderson and Terry Jones were. I just knew that when I took that DVD out of the local library (twice), it was for Jareth, the Goblin King. David Bowie, dressed like a ballroom dancer mixed with a punk rocker. And Christ, those boots. It would be fair to say that they…did something to me.

But, with a spin-off/sequel of the 1986 film on the horizon, so much is riding on who will play Jareth (like who even is Jennifer Connelly). The return of this wonderful universe, the film getting the reception it always deserved, the memories of my sexual awakening, all depend on how the Goblin King is played. It’s also a great opportunity to get some more genderqueer themes out of the film, Bowie’s androgyny is far more suited to the modern world than the 1980s. It always was.  Whoever takes over the role has some very big boots to fill, literally.

One of the really interesting contrasts in the film is the youth and virility of the Goblin King, in contrast to the rest of the creatures.

Tilda Swinton seems to be a popular pick, but to me, she just doesn’t feel quite right. Maybe twenty years ago, she might have been up to the role, but at nearly sixty years old, Tilda is past it. One of the really interesting contrasts in the film is the youth and virility of the Goblin King, in contrast to the rest of the creatures. I’m very up for age positivity, and recognise the problems that older women in the acting world face, but I don’t think a pensioner could carry that off, no matter their gender or how talented an actor they are.

The same is true of Johnny Depp. Ten years ago, might be a good choice. Today, maybe not. While he might be able to carry the role slightly better, are we really going to admit that we only have one character actor in all of Hollywood? Please no.

I would like to propose someone if I might? Gillian Anderson. She did a great job as Bowie himself in TV series American Gods (2017). I think she has the youth and vitality for the role, but also the age and skill as an actor to reflect a presence somewhere between mischievous and slightly demonic.

Gillian Anderson in American Gods.
Image Credit: IMDB

It would be a really interesting dynamic if Jennifer Connolly took over the role. The Goblin King would become a self-contained circle, who always recreates himself through malice and hatred. In the original film, the Goblin King played off Sarah Williams’ hate, anger and resentment. Like a weed, he grows out of human emotion, corrupting and destroying the original structure, and strangling all other living things. If Sarah became Jareth, the Goblin King’s motivation suddenly becomes much darker.

Whoever plays Jareth, I pity them. The Goblin King is an impossible role to play, and the actor who takes over will never be David Bowie. Then again, someone’s going to have to.

Last modified: 10th June 2020

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