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Film / Helen of Troy

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Helen of Troy is the name of two films and one television miniseries. All three are adaptations of Homer's The Iliad.

The first film, from 1924, is a German-made film, the original title being "Helena." It was directed by Manfred Noa and featured many actors who never made it big in the film industry. Until recently it was believed to be a lost film and was rediscovered. It has since been remastered and is considered one of the jewels of German cinema.

The second film, from 1956, is an American-made picture directed by Robert Wise, with a cast that includes Rossana Podesta as Helen, Jacques Sernas as Paris, Cedric Hardwicke as Priam, Stanley Baker as Achilles, and Brigitte Bardot as Andraste. Though critics were less than kind, the film was a box-office hit and has since become the go-to example for films set in The Trojan War, even to the point that footage from this film is shown in documentaries. It has had quite the influence on the later theatrical film adaptation, 2004's Troy.

The television miniseries from 2003 came out a full year before the aforementioned Troy. It features such actors as Sienna Guillory as Helen, Matthew Marsden as Paris, James Callis as the narrator Menalaus himself, Rufus Sewell as Agamemnon and Maryam d'Abo as Queen Hecuba. It includes such episodes from the mythology as Theseus' abduction of Helen, the Judgement of Paris and even the Oath of Tydareus.

Helen of Troy provides examples of:

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    The film 
  • Achilles' Heel: Mentioned by Ajax early on, later comes into play when an arrow from Paris goes into Achilles' heel.
  • Achilles in His Tent: Present in the 1956 film, absent in the miniseries. Achilles comes out of his tent when Paris kills Patroclus instead of Hector as in the original tale.
  • Adaptational Badass: Paris to the point that he beats Ajax in a cestus fight (boxing match), kills both Patroclus and Achilles and beats Menelaus in a duel.
  • Adaptational Dye-Job: The blond Achilles of the myths is portrayed by the black haired Stanley Baker.
  • Adaptational Heroism: Naturally, Paris gets hit by this. He is portrayed as hero and a great leader as opposed to the evil hearted coward he was in the myths. This also happens to him in the miniseries to the point of him being The Ace. Naturally, this results in Menelaus getting hit with...
  • Adaptational Villainy: Yes, just like the later film Troy, Menelaus gets hit with this trope. Despite this however, he does come across as being sympathetic. With the exception of Menelaus and Achilles, all of the Greek Kings are basically pirates who want to loot Troy for its treasures.
    • Agamemnon and Achilles both get hit by this pretty hard in the miniseries. Agamemnon makes his Troy counterpart look like a Disney villain and Achilles is a glory obsessed brute.
  • Adaptational Wimp: In the Iliad, Agamemnon is such a fearsome warrior that even Hector says he would rather face Achilles than the King of Mycenae. In the 1956 film however, Agamemnon declares that he does not want to fight Hector, making a reversal of his original portrayal.
  • Adapted Out: Menelaus and Helen's children Hermoine and Nicostratus; Philoctetes, etc.
  • Age Lift: With a beard like that it is pretty obvious that Achilles is not fifteen years old at the start of the war.
  • Ancient Grome: Odysseus is called by his Roman name "Ulysses" and mention is made of "Mercury" rather than "Hermes".
  • Anti-Villain: Menelaus comes across as being heartbroken when he realizes that Helen loves Paris and even more so when he is informed of her having left with Paris since by all appearances, it seems as if he has taken her by force.
  • Artistic License – History: For some unknown reason, Troy was modeled off of Knossos on Crete rather than the actual Troy in Anatolia.
  • Big Bad: Averted. Menelaus is meant to be this but he comes across as being so sympathetic that he seems to be more more a Hero Antagonist.
    • Agamemnon is the main villain of the miniseries however, no aversion.
  • Big Good: Priam for Troy.
  • Blood Knight: Achilles, Ajax, the Spartans, Polydorus
  • The Cassandra: She appears in both the 1956 film and the miniseries.
  • Cassandra Truth: She appears so it's only natural.
  • Casting Gag: Priam is played by Cedric Hardwicke. In The Ten Commandments which came out that same year Priam of Troy is mentioned at the beginning of Act II. Who played Seti I in that movie? Hardwicke.
  • Colour-Coded for Your Convenience: The Greek warriors wear black armour, Trojan warriors bluish-grey.
  • Combat by Champion: Achilles vs. Hector. Anyone who knows the Iliad will know how this turns out.
    • In the miniseries, the duel between Menelaus and Paris appears and nearly comes out accurately. After that duel, Hector challenges Agamemnon only for Achilles to challenge him and we all know what happens.
  • Comic-Book Adaptation: It received one by Dell, it is notable for sparing Paris. Three guesses what David Benioff read while he was writing the script for Troy.
  • Composite Character: In the film Paris seems to have been combined with his younger brother Deiphobus. In the myths, after Paris was killed by Philoctetes before the Trojan Horse appeared on the scene, Helen was given to Deiphobus as his wife. In the sacking of Troy, Menelaus kills Deiphobus.
  • Deliberate Values Dissonance: After Paris has defeated Ajax in a cestus battle, Menelaus offers him a female slave, obviously to take to his bed. Paris' only objection is that he has a slave in mind.
  • Evil Genius: Due to Adaptational Villainy Ulysses comes out as this.
  • Colour-Coded for Your Convenience: The Greek warriors wear black armour, Trojan warriors bluish-grey.
  • Grey-and-Gray Morality: Despite portraying the Trojans as heroes and the Greeks as villains this does end up happening. While many of the Trojans are indeed good hearted people, Helen does come across as a bitch at some points. Just as Agamemnon, Ulysses and the Greeks are portrayed as pirates Menelaus and Achilles come across as being better off. Menelaus is indeed a sympathetic character who genuinely seemed to love Helen and was very much hurt when he realized that she loved Paris while Achilles is shown to have a strong relationship with his friend Patroclus leading to him seeking revenge for Patroclus' death.
  • In the Back: Paris gets this from an an unnamed soldier during his duel with Menelaus.
  • Hero Antagonist: Menelaus comes across as this in both the Wise film and the miniseries.
  • Red Shirt: The only reason Polydorus exists. Even in the Iliad he is only there so Achilles can kill him.
  • Spiritual Successor: The Trojan Horse which got its own successor with Fury Of Achilles. Ironicaly, this film is also a spiritual successor to a film called Ulysses, which is an adaptation of The Odyssey and also feature Rosana Podesta not as Helen but as Nausicaa.
    • The film Troy can be considered a successor to the miniseries.
  • Trojan Horse
  • Twice-Told Tale: It tells The Iliad from the Trojans point of view. In fact, there is only a few scenes that features the only the Greeks making this trope all too apparent.
  • What a Drag: Achilles briefly drags Hector behind his chariot before Paris kills him.

    The miniseries 
  • The Ace: As mentioned above Paris becomes this.
  • Adaptational Heroism: It's not that Clytemnestra is totally unsympathetic in the mythology but here her only motivation to kill Agamemnon is revenge for sacrifice of Iphigenia and probably also rape of Helen. There is no indication of her having an affair. Also, she kills only Agamemnon but not Cassandra.
  • Adapted Out: Patroclus does not appear.
  • Age Lift:
    • Inverted with Iphigenia, who is depicted as a young child, instead of twelve at the youngest as in the myth. This is justified in that her mythological age is a case of Writers Cannot Do Math. Helen was said to be twelve when Theseus abducted her near the end of his reign and according to Castor of Rhodes that ended in 1205 BC, meaning Helen and her siblings Clytemnestra (Iphigenia's mother), Castor and Polydeuces would have been born in 1217 BC. The traditional date for the beginning of the Trojan War was 1194 BC, putting Iphigenia's date of birth in 1206 if she was twelve, a year before Theseus' abduction of Helen, which was before Helen was married to Menelaus and Clytemnestra was given to Agamemnon.
    • As mentioned above, Helen was twelve when Theseus abducted her. Here she is at least an adult given that Sienna Guillory plays her the entire series.
  • Anachronism Stew: Chinese men in Fu Manchu type clothing, Byzantium being mentioned, the Iron Age styled weapons and armour, etc.
  • Ancient Grome: Polydeuces is called by his Roman name "Pollux"
  • Bald of Evil: For some unfathomable reason, Achilles is bald despite the fact in mythology he is quite clearly stated as having blond hair.
  • Cain and Abel: Early on Hector shows intentions to kill Paris to prevent Troy's fall.
  • Decomposite Character: Due to Ajax being Demoted to Extra, many of his qualities are transferred to Achilles.
  • Demoted to Extra: Ajax only appears in one scene as Agamemnon's wrestling partner.
  • Disabled in the Adaptation: Calchas has deformed arms that haven't grown with the rest of his body.
  • Last Request: After the Greeks infiltrate Troy with the Trojan Horse and King Priam realizes he's surrounded by them, he asks them to, "Spare my Queen." They kill him and don't honor his request, as they quickly kill Queen Hecuba too.