Troy: Fall Of A City – BBC 1


I rather liked King Priam of Troy sounding as if he came from Burnage (although David Threlfall had managed to mix something else in with his Manchester accent, and I’m not entirely sure what it was), but I was less impressed by Paris asking Menelaus and Helen “How did you two get together?”.  I wasn’t expecting Homeric dialogue, or as near as you can get to it in English, but there are limits!  Also, I was rather disappointed that Helen wasn’t wearing gold spiral earrings.  I’ve got a pair of lovely gold spiral earrings which a man in the shop in Greece where I got them assured me were exactly what Helen of Troy would have worn. Yes, all right, I do know that the story isn’t true, and I’m fairly sure that the Iliad doesn’t make any reference to earrings anyway, but I was kind of hoping that she’d be wearing something like those all the same.  They’re very nice.

The idea of this BBC adaptation is to tell the story of the Trojan War from the Trojan viewpoint.  It’s quite weird, when you think about it, that the story of “the Trojan War” (complete with the Trojan Horse, which was actually a Greek horse!) is always told from the Greek viewpoint, and also that, even though the stories are written by Greeks, and the Greeks are the winners, the Trojans come across as the good guys.  We still talk about “working like Trojans”.  Virgil tried to make out that the Romans were descended from a group of fugitive Trojans led by Aeneas, and there’s even a legend, promoted by Geoffrey of Monmouth, that Aeneas’s grandson Brutus landed in Britain and founded London.  Why anyone would want to be descended from a wuss like Aeneas is beyond me.  Hector, yes, but not Aeneas.  But, to get back to the point, the Trojans are the ones we feel like we should be cheering for, so the BBC’s idea of showing things from their side, for once, sounds very promising.

Whichever side you’re coming from, it’s always difficult to portray Greek or Roman legends, or indeed Old Testament stories, on screen, because of divine figures mingling with mortals.  There’s no way of doing that without it seeming a bit awkward, and the BBC did their best with it.  Paris judged the contest of the goddesses, and was promised that he’d “get together” (to use the oh-so-elegant term used later on by the scriptwriters) with the most beautiful woman in the world.  Having been restored to the royal family, from whom he’d been abducted by wolves as a child (except that he wasn’t: he was actually dumped because of the prophecies that he’d bring about the ruin of Troy,) he was then dispatched on some sort of mission to Sparta, ruled by King Menelaus, who was married to Helen … who was, of course, the most beautiful woman in the world, with the face that launched a thousand ships.  And that was the last we saw of Troy for this episode.

Unfortunately, my two favourite Trojans hadn’t really featured.  Hector had only featured briefly, and so had his (and Paris’s) sister Cassandra.  None of the Greeks got an Abba song written about them, did they?  Cassandra tried to warn everyone what would happen, but, as the Abba song goes, “Sorry, Cassandra, that no-one believed you”.  And she met a very tragic fate.

I like Cassandra.  I don’t like Helen of Troy.  And there’s another “Trojan” thing – she wasn’t Helen of Troy at all.  She was Helen of Sparta.  So why does everyone know her as Helen of Troy?!  Helen is sometimes presented as a victim, who was abducted against her will, but the more common image, and the one I have of her, is of a bit of a bitch-cum-tart who abandoned her child and her husband and ran off with her lover, knowing that it would probably lead to war but not caring.  That’s not how the BBC presented her.  She was a ballsy feminist in this, going on about how she was a woman, not an object, and she’d do as she pleased.  This involved going off with Paris.  She had herself concealed in a wooden box, and Paris didn’t seem to know anything about it until he opened the box on the ship.

And that was as far as it got last night.  Achilles and the rest of the big Greek heroes haven’t even been mentioned yet.  Achilles gets on my nerves.  He’s like a Premier League diva who refuses to play unless the manager does exactly what he wants.  Agamemnon and Menelaus are both extremely annoying, I’m not convinced about Odysseus, and don’t even go there with the evil Ajax the Lesser.  And sacrificing your own daughter (Agamemnon sacrificing Iphigenia) is not really a very nice way to behave.  So telling the story from the Trojan viewpoint does seem like rather an attractive idea – especially as the problems Paris must have had adapting to becoming a prince, having not been brought up as one, go a long way towards explaining his reckless behaviour.  But the dialogue in this was just silly.  And why on earth was there an ostrich wandering round Menelaus’s palace?!

I’m not overly impressed with the BBC about this.  I don’t know … somehow it’s funny when Sky or Netflix produce something like Britannia, which is so bad that it’s good; but you expect “proper” drama from the BBC, and the Trojan War provides more than enough scope for it.  “How did you two get together?”  Seriously?!   Whatever next?  Priam screaming “Get outta my city”?

Oh well.  It’s only the first episode.  Maybe the dialogue will improve!  And maybe we’ll get to see a bit more of Hector and Cassandra.  And the ostrich was great.  I’m just not sure what it was doing in Menelaus’s palace.  Never mind …