Helen of Troy
|Helen of Troy is a 2003 television miniseries based upon Homer’s story of the Trojan War, as recounted in the epic poem, Iliad. This TV miniseries also shares the name with a 1956 movie starring Stanley Baker. It stars Sienna Guillory as Helen, Matthew Marsden as Paris, Rufus Sewell as Agamemnon, James Callis as Menelaus, John Rhys-Davies as Priam, Maryam d’Abo as Hecuba, and Stellan Skarsgård as Theseus. The series was entirely shot on location in the islands of Malta.
The film is placed in the early classical period rather than the correct late Bronze Age; the Greeks are shown with Iron Age classical hoplite dress and arms. Made on a relatively low budget, Helen of Troy was released at a time when interest in the subject was high due to the soon-to-be-released Troy.
The film also focuses more on the life of Helen herself rather than simply the Trojan War. The entire first half deals with Helen’s life before Troy, and includes a number of mythological facts that other versions either gloss over or omit, such as Helen’s abduction by Theseus and the actual agreement of the Greek kings to use her marriage as their peace agreement.
In contrast to Troy (which was roughly based on the Iliad which itself only depicts some of the events of the final year of the war), the film tells much of the story of the War. Most notably, Helen of Troy features and discusses the intervention of the gods (the film’s opening scene shows Hera, Athena and Aphrodite at the Judgment of Paris) as written by Homer. This does not mean, however, that it is more accurate, as a number of the characters (namely Paris, as stated above), do not resemble their Homeric counterparts. Both films feature the interpretation of Agamemnon as a power-hungry tyrant, although this Helen of Troy adds a new dimension by addressing Agamemnon’s sacrifice of his daughter Iphigeneia to the gods.
The film begins with the birth of Paris, and Cassandra’s prophecy that he would be the cause of Troy’s destruction. Worried, his father King Priam leaves him on Mount Ida, where he is found and raised by the shepherd Agelaus. When he is an adult, he judges Aphrodite as the fairest of the three goddesses, Hera, Athena, and Aphrodite. After awarding her the golden apple she promises him the love of Helen of Sparta, the most beautiful woman in the world.
Meanwhile in Sparta, Helen sees in a pool Paris’s judgement, and happily accepts his choice of her love. She later meets the Mycenaean King, Agamemnon, who has come to claim her sister, Clytemnestra, as his bride, but is also immediately taken by her attractiveness. During the wedding, Helen is kidnapped by two Athenians, Theseus, and his friend Pirithous. They take her to Athens, where Helen falls for Theseus, before her brother Pollux raids Athens and kills him. As he is dying, Theseus stabs Pollux. In Sparta, Helen’s father Tyndareus rages at his daughter, blaming her for losing his heir. He presents her to the many suitors who seek her hand, bidding them to do as they wish.
The suitors draw lots after swearing an oath suggested by clever Odysseus that if anyone disrespect her husband’s claims to her, they should unite and wage war against him. Odysseus rules himself and Agamemnon out of the lot, since they are both married. They agree to the oath, and Agamemnon’s brother Menelaus wins. Agamemnon is visibly jealous.
Agamemnon suggests to Menelaus that he should have Helen present herself nude before the other suitors, as a way for him to demonstrate that their marriage is worth the suitors’ protection. While Helen is bathing, Clytemnestra tries to dissuade her from doing as Menelaus asks, but is unsuccessful. Before Helen leaves, she says to Clytemnestra, “They can look all they want, but they’ll never see me.” The doors open and Helen walks naked through the crowd of men, to great appreciation. She stops before Menelaus, then turns around and steps onto a dais, putting her naked body in full view of everyone in the room. Agamemnon is clearly feasting his eyes on Helen’s body throughout her presentation.
Meanwhile, Paris’ favorite bull is taken for the Trojan tribute games. Paris insists on competing, despite his father’s protests. After winning in every competition and being recognized by his sister Cassandra, Paris is welcomed by an overjoyed Priam to Troy. Cassandra and his elder brother Hector are upset at their father’s decision.
Paris is sent to Sparta to draw out a peace treaty with the Atreids, Agamemnon and Menelaus. His treaty is refused and Agamemnon plots to have him murdered. While there, however, he recognizes Helen as she is standing naked on the dais. Later, he prevents her from committing suicide. He then gains her love, and she helps him flee. Together they sail to Troy.
When Menelaus finds this out, he demands that his brother launch war on Troy, and the former suitors are gathered to fulfill their oath. But the winds are not in their favor and after a month, a soothsayer reveals that Athena wants Agamemnon to sacrifice his daughter Iphigenia. Agamemnon is horrified, but nevertheless carries out the deed.
Helen and Paris arrive at Troy with the Greek army at their heels. Priam is at first reluctant to allow Helen to remain at Troy, until he sees her. When the Greeks send an embassy of Menelaus and Odysseus to demand Helen’s return, Priam refuses, and the Greeks plan an attack.
In the morning, the battle is joined on the beach of Troy, with Hector nearly killed by Agamemnon. The battle ends with the Trojan army’s crushing defeat and the Greeks camping on the beach.
Ten years pass. Agamemnon agrees to end the war with a single combat, between Menelaus and Paris. If Menelaus wins, Helen will be returned. If Menelaus loses, the Trojans may keep her. Whatever the outcome, the Greeks have to leave Troy.
Agamemnon cheats, poisoning Menelaus’ javelin without telling him. During the duel Paris is cut and the poison disorientates him. Menelaus, however, does not take advantage of him; instead, they stop fighting and make peace between each other as a fog hides them from view.
As the fog lifts, Agamemnon’s cheating is exposed. Hector challenges Agamemnon to a duel that will end the war—this time, to the death. Achilles takes up the challenge, fighting for Agamemnon, but agrees to fight not for Helen but for his own honor. Achilles easily succeeds in killing Hector.
That night Helen, fearing for Paris’s safety, goes to the seer Cassandra and asks to know what she can do to protect Paris. Cassandra replies that her only choice is to give herself to the Greeks. Helen agrees, presenting herself in Agamemnon’s tent and offering a trade—her for the body of Hector. Agamemnon refuses, as he does not want his daughter’s death to be in vain, and chases her around the camp, but Paris arrives in time to save her, challenging Agamemnon for the safety of Troy. Achilles charges at him, but Paris seizes a bow and shoots Achilles in the heel, killing him. Afterwards the Greeks attack him, but he hides and is reunited with Helen. Shortly thereafter, Agamemnon finds him and stabs Paris in the chest after a quick duel. He dies in Helen’s arms, whispering the word, “goddess”.
During Paris’ funeral, the Greeks are reported to have sailed away—leaving a massive wooden horse on the shore. It is taken into the city, and Troy celebrates late into the night. When they are all asleep, the Greeks come out and sack the city, slaying Priam and Hecuba. The great Agamemnon seats himself proudly on Troy’s throne as the new Emperor of the Aegean and Ruler of the World. Agamemnon has his men bring Helen to his throne and orders her to kneel at his feet. Agamemnon strokes Helen’s hair, then begins to rape her. Menelaus tries to stop him, but is held back by Agamemnon’s guards. He orders Agamemnon to leave his wife alone, but his brother pays no mind to his commands and continues to rape Helen. Odysseus is also shocked at Agamemnon’s act, but could do nothing.
The next morning, as the Greek soldiers ravage the ruins of Troy of its riches and its people as slaves, Clytemnestra arrives in the royal palace of Troy, where she ventures into the royal pool. There, she finds Agamemnon and Helen, both naked. Agamemnon relaxes in triumph, while Helen lies in a corner, not saying a word. Clytemnestra covers her sister with a robe and sends her away, leaving her (Clytemnestra) alone with Agamemnon. She tells him she comes for their daughter, Iphigenia. When Agamemnon replies that she is not here, Clytemnestra, having figured out herself, throws a net on her husband and stabs him to death.
Helen wanders woefully through the ruined city, finally coming to the spot where Paris was slain. There, she sees an apparition of Paris and they embrace. Helen begs Paris to take her with him to the afterlife, and he tells her that he has prepared a place for her, but she must wait until it is her time. He disappears, and Menelaus crosses her path, sword in hand. Helen prepares for her punishment, but Menelaus can do nothing but feel sorry for her. Helen tells him she cannot love him, but she “will follow”. The two head back to the Greek ships, ready to live the rest of their lives as King and Queen of Sparta.