Troy: Fall of a City is the latest attempt to bring Homer’s (not that one) Illiad tales of legend to life. Life in Troy seems like quite good fun until Paris (Louis Hunter) falls in love with Helen of Sparta (Bella Dayne), regarded by many as the most beautiful woman in the world. You might think that sounds lovely, but not when Helen is married to King Menaleus (Jonas Armstrong). In fact their love causes all out war when Agamemnon (Johnny Harris) raises an army to retrieve Helen from Troy. Epic war and tales of legendary heroism ensue.
Before we get into Troy: Fall of a City, I’ll lay my cards on the table: I love Greek myths and legends. I’ll go one further than that. I think I am perhaps the only person in the world who loves (not likes a bit, loves) Wolfgang Petersen’s 2004 film Troy. What’s not to like? Okay, objectively it’s not a great film, but I just love it – so much so that I went to the trouble of tracking down a region-free Blu-Ray so that I could enjoy it whenever I liked in glorious HD. What can I say, give me two guys in sandals going at each other with swords and I’m there.
Anyway, I only confess my deep love of Troy to illustrate how pleased I was to see someone else taking a stab at the material. I have always thought that The Illiad (and The Odyssey) were absolutely ripe for adaptation – in a world of cinematic universes, I’m amazed that it hasn’t become a thing. Thankfully, the BBC seemed to have heard my prayers and created a new version of the stories in the shape of Troy: Fall of a City. The big question is – does it fulfill all of my swords and sandals requirements?
I think for the most part Troy: Fall of a City is actually very good; it’s obvious to see that the success of something like Game of Thrones has had some degree of influence over the series but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Also given that this is indeed created by the BBC it’s not quite as… upfront with its sexytime scenes and is in fact very restrained. It’s the kind of thing you could watch with your parents without feeling desperately uncomfortable. However, sexy regions aside this does feel like it has taken some inspiration from HBO’s juggernaut fantasy series.
My understanding of the source material is fairly limited. I have been keen on reading The Illiad for quite some time but quite frankly I’m not sure I have the brain power to take on such a Herculean (how’s that for mixing mythologies?) task. I do have a basic understanding of the characters and events involved but only through secondary sources – a Classics scholar I am not. With that being said, the first thing that struck me about the series was that there were some changes made to the characters and story. I’m not sure whether I necessarily liked the changes because it really refocuses the story in places, but I can appreciate why they have been made. The changes add a little more intrigue and mystery to proceedings allowing for Game of Thrones-style plotting and subterfuge. While I’m not sure if I like these changes, I’ve tried to review the series as something in its own right, rather than with my expectations and connections to the original stories.
Some of the story and character deviations are fairly minor and I can completely understand why they were done. After all, The Illiad has been translated into English a number of different ways, so it’s clear that it is very much open to interpretation. There were some fundamental changes to key characters that just didn’t really sit well with me, but that could just be based on my affection for the 2004 movie. I think the most notable changes were to Helen and Paris – both of which really cast a lot of the story in a different light and create tension (and in my case frustration) where it didn’t need to be. As a slight aside, one of the tropes in TV and film that really gets under my skin is people withholding information just for the sake of it. For example, there are some instances in Troy: Fall of a City where fairly innocuous information is held back and it’s only in holding it back that it becomes damaging. There was enough scope for suspense and excitement without artificially manufacturing it.
They were my main complaints about the series, which I think are fairly minor, really. Now onto the things I liked…
The series looks beautiful; the landscapes, the cities, everything. It is really well shot and doesn’t look like it’s a cheap made-for-TV drama. It’s perhaps not quite on the level of some of HBO’s finest but that’s an unreasonable expectation. This is clearly a very ambitious show (after all Helen is meant to be the face that launched a thousand ships) and it really pulls it off. On a purely technical level, the series is a success.
Secondly, it has some really great performances. In fact, I’m struggling to think of a performance from one of the leads that wasn’t great. Perhaps Louis Hunter is the weakest link as Paris, but that’s not to say he was bad more than everyone else seemed to be so good. I particularly liked Achilles (David Gyasi) who is played as both a supernaturally gifted warrior but also as someone who is incredibly human. There’s almost a sad reluctance to the way that he fights, and he is every bit as much a philosopher as he is a fighter. Joseph Mawle (of Uncle Benjen fame) is great as Odysseus, a character that I think is fascinating; he’s both a cunning strategist but ultimately the voice of reason and at his core a decent person (or at least aspires to be). As I sit and think about the performances it feels unfair to just single those two out when everyone else is so good.
The series takes an interesting path when thinking about the gods. Whereas the 2004 film only hinted at their existence, Troy: Fall of a City actually brings them onto the screen as real characters that play a role in the fates of heroes. I really liked this aspect of the show, it hinted at a role for supernatural or higher beings but it never really felt hokey or out of place.
It’s a mark of a good series or a movie if it leaves you wanting more, and this certainly left me wanting more. As the final scenes played it made me hope that maybe the BBC might look to follow this up with The Odyssey. I can dream.
I really enjoyed Troy: Fall of a City. I might have an existing connection to the material but I don’t think that’s in anyway a requirement. I felt that this was a genuinely interesting and entertaining series in its own right.
Oli has been writing for Ready Steady Cut since November 2017. He has a PhD in Computer Science and he writes articles about TV, film and, very occasionally, science.