Role In The Film
Irene only appears briefly in the film, and is first seen scolding Sarah for being late home when she was meant to be baby-sitting Toby. Irene and Sarah are shown to have a very tense relationship, and Irene angers Sarah by refusing to allow her rain-soaked sheep dog Merlin into the house.
Once they are both inside, Irene further infuriates Sarah by insisting that she and Robert only go out rarely, a point Sarah protests by stating that they go out 'every weekend.'
When Sarah asks why she's never asked if she has any plans, Irene upsets her by telling her that she'd assume she'd let her know if she had a date, remarking that Sarah should have dates at her age. The comment prompts Sarah to storm upstairs to her room.
With Sarah gone, Irene tells Robert that Sarah "treats me like an evil stepmother in a fairy story no matter what I say." Generally, Irene appears frustrated by Sarah's attitude towards her, or rather the fact that she can't control Sarah like she does Robert.
Appearances In Other Media
The novelization of the film expands Irene's role slightly, and offers additional insights into Sarah's perception of her. Sarah is shown to feel extremely bitter and resentful of her step-mother, and is constantly thinking of put-downs to describe her and how she could go against her wishes. Sarah is highly critical of Irene's fashion sense, considering her both vulgar and tacky. Sarah actively compares her dull, ordinary step-mother detrimentally with her glamorous birth mother.
Irene is depicted slightly more sympathetically in the novel, which suggests she comes across badly mainly because that is how Sarah perceives her.
When Irene and Robert are discussing Sarah in the entrance hall, Irene notes that she knows how hard things must be for Sarah as her mother walked out on her, demonstrating that she feels some level of understanding of how Sarah feels, although she would have pretended to agree with Robert to appear nice. Aditionally, it is heavly implied that she often takes Sarah's toys from her bedroom without her permission to give them to Toby.
In a significant shift in her behaviour, Sarah also tells her father and Irene 'welcome back' when they return home at the end of the novel. Sarah’s comment provokes a disbelieving cry of 'what' from Irene.
Return To Labyrinth
In the series, Sarah's low opinion of her step-mother is shown to have remained unchanged since the film and it is hinted that the feeling is mutual since she accused Toby of being "worse than his sister". She only appears briefly at the start of the first volume.
Irene is shown to be an excessively strict parent, and in a flashback she becomes angry with Toby when he asks for a new bike. When Jareth gives Toby a new bike by magical means, Irene assumes Toby stole it and spanks him as punishment.
Irene is a cold and disinterested parent to Toby, and when on an evening out with Robert leaves him a note not to touch any food in the fridge, telling him to eat cold leftovers instead. Later in the manga Irene expresses no interest in Toby's school-life when his school contact her over his poor behaviour, dismissively telling him 'it's your life.'
- In many Labyrinth fanfictions, Irene is renamed Karen.