Thursday, April 24, 2003

No Aristeias in Helen of Troy Miniseries

Well, I watched Helen of Troy part 1 Sunday night twice just to make sure I didnt miss anything. (It took my husband, who was casually reading the paper, an hour to figure out I was just watching the same program again!) Overall I found the program entertaining and noticed there was an attempt to at least follow some of the events in mythology. I didnt remember Theseus being killed by Pollux (and my web research confirmed my suspicion). I also didnt remember Paris being abandoned and raised by a shepherd but I checked on that and it is part of the myth. (This new grandmother must be getting senile!)

There are several things that do detract from a reasonably well-made story. Achilles is nearly a non-character and totally out of character with the other members of the cast. (That shaved head just looks totally wrong and the scriptwriter has not given the actor any lines to work with either) I noticed on the USA website that he isnt even mentioned as a main character. Of course by downplaying Achilles, USA was able to side-step the Patroklas issue. Paris is also portrayed as being able to defeat Hector in hand-to-hand combat. Hectors character should be fleshed out and epitomize honor and courage but in this program he is definitely taking a back seat to Paris.

On the positive side, Rufus Sewell is excellent as Agammenon. He commands such screen presence that he virtually steals the scenes in which he appears. Matthew Marsden is doing a good job as Paris too. Sienna Guillory is putting a lot of effort into her part as Helen and I enjoyed the brief but amiable appearance of Stellan Skarsgard as Theseus. Emilia Fox is also suitably otherwordly as Cassandra.

I watched part 2 last night. Although it had some intense battle scenes (I notice that the director attempted to recreate the "Saving Private Ryan" effect with the whizzing arrows and water level landing scenes) I felt the storyline lost a great deal without the morality lessons of Achilles, Patroklas and Hectors aristeias. Achilles was just a vicious brute. Since there was no grief for Patroklas, his dragging of Hectors body behind his chariot had no particular significance except to make him look like he was just vainglorius. (Alexander the Great would have never idolized a person like that!) Of course, in real Greek mythology, Agammenon brought Cassandra back to Mycenae as a slave. There is no mention of any rape of his brothers wife Helen. I assume this scene was intended to thoroughly villify Agammenon since the entire program seemed focused on him as the antagonist. I also did a double take when Clytemnestra showed up in Troy. I guess the director was running out of time so they didnt have time to have Agammenon sail back to Greece to be murdered in his bath. I also found the Paris-Menelaus duel strange. In the Iliad, Menelaus supposedly wounded Paris so grievously that Paris had to be rescued by Aphrodite. Having Menelaus show clemency was confusing. I guess it was intended to show Menelaus was not so bad after all. I couldnt reconcile this view of Menelaus, though, with the fact that he apparently allowed Agammenon to take over his wife as was shown in the bath murder scene with Clytemnestra.

The hubris of the Greek sack of Troy was also not shown. Priam was killed but not at the household altar. Cassandra was not shown raped in the temple of Athena by Aios the Lesser. (although according to this website, Cassandra may not have been raped after all. Queen Hecuba was murdered rather than enslaved and of course there was no mention of Andromache and little Astyanax. (

All in all, however, it was much more interesting to watch than Junkyard Wars!

I found this review of the "Troy" feature film script an interesting contrast to the TV version: