The show was filmed in Cape Town, South Africa. (Photo courtesy of Endemol Shine Group)
This month, Netflix added the BBC’s new adaptation of the Trojan War for American audiences. This new interpretation of the war’s events includes a few compelling story elements, moments and characters never before delved into in modern film and television. However, these strong elements do little to make up for the glaring, fundamental flaws and abundant missed opportunities that sink the show for both those well versed in the story and those with no knowledge of the source material.
The plot of the series follows the classic tale of Prince Paris/Alexander of Troy (Louis Hunter) and Queen Helen of Sparta (Bella Dayne), who fall in love and elope back to Troy only for Helen’s husband to pursue her with 100,000 of his fellow Greek soldiers to win her back in a 10-year siege. One of the most frustrating aspects of the series is the focus on Helen and Paris as the central heroes of the story. Both characters have interesting back stories, both in the show and in the source material, which allows for plenty of room for character exploration that the series pulls off with some consistency, yet no amount of this can make up for the consequences brought about by the couple’s thoughtless and selfish affair.
Audiences may struggle to root for characters that are willing to let thousands suffer and die in order for them to pursue a relationship, no matter how developed and likable these characters are in specific moments. The series tries to cover it up with a quick line explaining that the war would have happened even if Paris and Helen had not run away together, but this is inconsistent with every other aspect of the show.
Part of what makes this hard to believe is the treatment of the characters on the Greek side of the war, almost all of which want nothing to do with the war in the first place. In many versions of the story, most notably in the 2004 film “Troy,” King Agamemnon is more-or-less seen as the main antagonist; a king who cares little about a Trojan prince stealing his brother’s wife and is more concerned with expanding his empire.
In “Troy: Fall of a City,” however, Agamemnon (Johnny Harris) is treated in a new compelling way that paints him as more of a tragic figure. He is portrayed as being loyal and protective of his younger brother, Menelaus (Jonas Armstrong), having won Helen for him in the first place and immediately responding to his brother’s desire for war to win her back. The series also emphasizes the personal sacrifices he is forced to make in order for the war to even begin. He is destroyed by what he is forced to do, and it is this pain that makes him so ruthless. If the Greeks do not win the war, all he gave up was for nothing.
This level of nuance in his character is one of the series strongest aspects and carries over to others on the Greek side. Joseph Mawle shines in his portrayal of Odysseus. Mawle fully embodies his character’s isolation and suffering during the war, while also convincing the audience of his character’s genius and moral flexibility. Jonas Armstrong also pulls off a convincing negative portrayal of Menelaus who audiences will not have a hard time despising for his spoiled and violent nature. Unfamiliar audiences may be surprised by the relationship between Achilles and Patroclus, who in the series are both brothers-in-arms and lovers, as it is not always portrayed this way in other media and the nature of the relationship between the two heroes has been the subject of scholarly debate for years. However, the bond exhibited in the series is convincing, refreshing and serves the complex arches of both characters.
The nuance with which the Greek side is handled by the series does not translate well to the Trojan side of the war. The characters of Helen, Hector (Tom Weston-Jones) and Priam (David Threlfall) each act in ways against their individual motivations in ways that may frustrate and confuse audiences.
Although much of this side of the series focuses on interesting and relevant aspects of the effects of the war, such as food shortages and child soldiers, there are extended periods of bland family drama and minor character subplots. The series would benefit from spending less time on these boring elements, as the limited budget already constrains the amount of exciting action sequences. The show attempts to subvert the limitations of their budget, but the audience can easily see through the tricks they use. For a show about war, barely any battles or fighting is shown. Most of the fighting consists of brief, one-on-one fights or evening ambushes where it is too dark to see the scale of the battle.
The overarching budget restraints combined with a flawed plot structures are enough to taint the compelling characters and performances this series has to offer.
Final Grade: C-