This article comes from Den of Geek UK.
Following the cancellation of Atlantis in 2015, the BBC is heading back into ancient Greek mythological territory with this new series about the Trojan War cycle of Greek myth – that is, stories about the build up to the war between Greeks and Trojans, about the fall of the city, and the homecomings and travels of the various survivors.
This is a more adult-oriented show than Atlantis was, and takes itself and its subject material much more seriously. An early sex scene sets the tone – this is not the leering, provocative, sex-for-sex’s-sake type of scene typical of some shows, but nor is this a series suitable for children. A later fight scene strikes a similar balance. There is blood, there is violence, but so far, nothing intensely gory (though to be fair, we haven’t come to the war yet). The series does not wallow and glory in sex and violence, but nor does it shy away from the sex and violence that comes with these stories and a later, more significant love scene does show a little more, due to its greater importance to the plot.
One of the central decisions any screen adaptation of the Trojan War cycle has to make is: gods or no gods? While other cycles from Greek mythology would make little sense without the involvement of Zeus, Hera, Hades and the others, it is quite possible to lift the gods out of the Trojan War story all together. The religion remains – human characters can still make decisions based on what they think the gods want. But the central actions of the characters, whether they relate to love, war or family, can all be explained purely through human motivations if the creators choose, as they were in Wolfgang Petersen’s 2004 film, Troy.
In this series, the creative team have gone in a different direction. The gods do not appear in scenes by themselves, hanging around Olympus in gold and white frocks as they did in the 1981 Clash Of The Titans and, indeed, the 2010 Clash Of The Titans. They appear on screen and we are given visual images of them. However, over the course of the first episode, only one mortal actually sees them – no other human beings seem to see them or be aware of their presence. Whether any other mortal characters will see them will become clear as the story moves over to concentrate on the Greeks in the second episode, but as long as the gods have no separate scenes and are witnessed by only one or two characters, the possibility remains that they exist only in the minds of these characters, and not, in fact, in reality at all.
Having said that, there are clear and unambiguous fantasy elements in the series. Prophecy frequently plays a central role in Greek mythology and it does so here too, chiefly in the form of prophetic visions which the audience knows are accurate (even anyone unfamiliar with the mythology has seen the series title!). Other mysterious omens and portents are also alluded to. Against the theory that the gods exist only in one character’s mind is the interaction between the gods in their main scene, speaking over the mortal to each other and refusing to explain themselves clearly. This is definitely a fantasy series, but one reasonably grounded in a realistic-feeling world.
The production values here are of a high standard and the set design looks great, blending various elements of Greek and Near Eastern imagery. The nobles reclining under shelter on the sand of the beach was an especially nice image. The costume design is, for the most part, equally lavish, though the odd choice does take you out of the show a bit – just why is Helen wearing all those feathers, and what was Priam thinking when he carefully tended that moustache?!
The main threat to this series at the moment is a fairly common one – the worry that the series is taking itself a bit too seriously. This is unsurprising considering that one of the issues Atlantis had was not taking itself seriously enough, but it wouldn’t hurt Troy: Fall Of A City to crack a smile here and there. We do see some glimpses of humour in some sequences, and it does work well to humanise these characters. Odysseus made a fleeting appearance in this first episode but we are likely to see more of him in the coming weeks – perhaps, as the wily trickster of Greek mythology, he will have a little more wit to him.
This is a strong beginning for a promising show. The actors are all charismatic and put in good performances, and the production values are high. The central story has been engaging people through many different forms of art for millennia, so there are no problems there, though we do appear to be getting through the story at a fairly high speed. So far, this is a surprisingly faithful adaptation of the traditional plot from Greek mythology, though whether the series diverts more from its source material in future weeks remains to be seen. One to watch.