– By Tyler Carlos –
Storytelling has been a part of the world for thousands of years, and some of the first stories have lived on to become classics that are still told to this day. And with today’s technology, we are able to experience these stories in new and exciting ways. So it’s always a disappointment when one of those classics is adapted into something that’s, well…disappointing. And this time, it is The Iliad that has fallen victim in the form of the BBC and Netflix Original Series Troy: Fall of a City.
Troy: Fall of a City follows the events of the Trojan War, which began after Paris, the prince of Troy, fell in love the Helen, the queen of Greece, and took her as his own. The king of Greece, Menelaus, gathers an army to attack the Trojans for the shame and embarrassment they put on him. Among this army is the warrior Achilles, who is the son of a goddess and nearly impossible to defeat in battle, as well as the warrior Odysseus, an aged soldier with a good heart.
This series focuses primarily on Paris and his history both before and during the war. Just to give a bit of backstory, Paris was the adopted son of a shepherd. While out shepherding one day, Paris is chosen by Zeus to make a decision: to give either Hera, Athena, or Aphrodite a golden apple as proof that they are the most beautiful goddess on Olympus. Each of the goddesses offers Paris a gift in exchange for the apple. Aphrodite, being the goddess of love, offers Paris the most beautiful woman in the world, and he chooses her as the most beautiful. A short time later, Paris is found by Hector and the other sons of Priam, king of Troy. When they bring Paris to Priam, the king and queen realize that Paris is actually their son, Alexander, who they abandoned at birth because of a prophecy made by their daughter Cassandra. She saw that Paris, should he remain in Troy, would bring about the destruction of Troy.
Well long story short, Paris is brought back into Troy as a prince. In an attempt to make him a better prince, he is sent to the king of Greece on a diplomatic mission. When he meets the queen, Helen, he knows that she is the woman promised to him by Aphrodite. They fall in love, she leaves with him, and Menelaus gathers the armies of Greece to get her back. The war begins, and the story proceeds from there. We also get a look into the lives of many other famous, literary characters, including Achilles, Hector, Helen, Odysseus, Agamemnon, and Aeneas (of The Aeneid).
Going into this show, I really had high hopes. The Iliad is one of my favorite Greek myths, and I enjoyed the 2004 film Troy, which starred Brad Pitt, Eric Bana, and Orlando Bloom. In fact, the only problem that I had with the film was the lack of the Greek gods’ presence, as they were a major contributing factor in the events surrounding the war. So when I saw this show on Netflix, I was hoping for a strong adaptation that could dive deeper into the drama of this Greek tragedy. And while it certainly did delve more deeply into the story surrounding one of the characters, I was severely disappointed by many other elements of this adaptation.
Let’s start with the casting of the series. Now, as this series is a mythological historical drama set in ancient Greece, it felt as though the executives were trying to make a politically correct statement in regards to some of their casting choices. Many main characters, including Achilles, Aeneas, Zeus, Athena, and Patroclus, were portrayed by black actors, and within this setting and time period, it did not seem like an appropriate choice. In fact, Achilles is described in “The Iliad” as having blonde hair (which would make sense, as blonde hair was a symbol of divinity in ancient Greece). The creators of the show have discussed the casting choices, and they’ve said that, as this was a mythological story, they cast the person that best embodied the character. And perhaps, yes, the fact that this is a mythological story could provide the opportunity for freedom in casting choices. But there is still a need to be historically accurate. There is still a need to honor the source material. And in this case, the casting choices felt like they made for more reasons than skill and character embodiment.
Moving on, I have to say that the casting did not bother me so much as the lack of skill portrayed by the actors. All around, the acting was dry and fairly poor. David Gyasi, who portrays Achilles, was particularly lackluster. Achilles came off exceedingly stoney-faced and boring- which is especially sad when you consider the fact that Achilles is one of the most exciting and well-known characters in Greek mythology (I mean, come on, we even have a muscle named after him). In fact, Achilles was probably my least favorite character in the entire series. He was just completely unlikeable. The only reason he seems to fight is because he enjoys it, he comes off as an egotistical cry-baby when Agamemnon takes his slave, and he only ever gives off the impression of anger and arrogance. The actor’s performance is just not good. There isn’t any other way to put it.
The story of The Iliad is about 10-year-long war between the Trojans and the Greeks. But for a 10-year-long war, there were shockingly few battle scenes. And the few battle scenes that we got were surprisingly boring. Many of the battles in the series were brief glimpses into them- for example, episode 2 ends with a battle beginning and episode 3 begins with the battle over. This is how most of the battle scenes happen in the series- they happen, but the audience doesn’t see them. The biggest exception is the ending battle when the Greeks invade Troy, but as this was the climactic end of the war, it needed to be epic. If you’re going to adapt something like The Iliad, you need to go all out.
Along with the underwhelming battle scenes are the underwhelming iconic moments of The Iliad, such as the Golden Apple, the introductions of Achilles and Helen, and the battle between Hector and Achilles. The Golden Apple scene in episode 1 did not pull off the drama and importance of that moment. This sets up the entirety of the series, and yet it felt rushed and underappreciated. The introductions of Achilles and Helen were also lackluster. These are iconic characters of Greek mythology. They are the children of gods, but they are not treated as such. We get no backstory of who they are- they just show up. And perhaps the most disappointing moment of all was the battle between Achilles and Hector. These are two of the most skilled fighters in Greek mythology, but their battle was short and to the point. These are the moments that audiences want to see, so they need to have substance. They need to be dramatic and entertaining. They need to get the heart beating. And, unfortunately, these scenes just didn’t do that. They happened…that’s it. Honestly, the most exciting scene came at the very end with the final siege of Troy. I wish that the drama and action in that ending scene had been mirrored throughout the series.
Next to mention is the fact that there is literally no acknowledgement of the passage of time. We know from The Iliad that the Trojan War lasted 10 years, but in this show, it could’ve lasted one year or ten. There is actually a young child shown to have not aged at all between episodes 1 and 8, yet there is undeniable passage of some year. We have a few clues of time passage. For example, one character gets pregnant and gives birth between two episodes. For another, toward the end of the series, Helen says that she has not seen her daughter in years. Assuming that they stuck to the source material and the war lasted ten years, then these characters clearly have the elixir of life, for they don’t age whatsoever. The passage of time is an important element in an epic like this, because it ups the ante. But this show just doesn’t acknowledge it.
There is one last gaping plot hole to mention in this series. Because the filmmakers decided to focus primarily on the personal relationships and the drama going on within the walls of Troy, we are able to see the simplest way to end the war- give Helen back to the Greeks. The Greeks made it perfectly clear that they were at Troy only to get Helen back. Because of the way that Paris and Helen get together (Aphrodite making them fall in love), I wouldn’t say audiences are exactly rooting for them. To save his city, all the King of Troy had to do was give Helen back to the Greeks. Instead, he caves to his son’s selfish demands to keep Helen, causing the deaths of everyone in the city, including his own sons, wife, and grandson. It just leaves no room for sympathy.
Now, while there are many problems with the series, I do have to say that the show was strongest when focusing on the drama and relationships between the characters. As I mentioned above, this is a story about love and war, and the writers and actors showed off their best in those moments of love and hate. This adaptation does bring the viewer deeper into what happens behind the wall- an aspect missing from the original 2004 film.
Also, I was very excited that the writers actually incorporated the Greek gods in this adaptation. They play an integral part in the Trojan War, and it is important that they are included in this story. Except for the Golden Apple scene, the gods were always seen in the shadows, slightly influencing the actions of the characters. They are such fascinating entities, and I was happy with how they were represented. It’s not a story about the gods, but they definitely had a hand in the outcome.
Overall, Troy: Fall of a City was sadly underwhelming. The story was rushed, the action scenes boring, and the characters unlikeable. The best parts were when the characters were feuding behind closed doors. Honestly, if the creators had not given only 8 episodes for a 10-year story, perhaps they could have told the story properly. It brings me back to the saying “If you’re going to do something, do it right.” Unfortunately, when it comes to this show, the creators didn’t do it right. Here’s hoping that the next adaptation of one of Homer’s classics brings more to the table.
Overall Rating: 2/5
About the Author
Tyler Carlos is a proud nerd originally from Baton Rouge, LA. He completed his undergraduate in Mass Communication from Louisiana State University, and graduated from JPCatholic’s MBA in Film Producing in 2016. In his off time, he enjoys Crossfit, escape rooms, and watching Gotham and This Is Us. His ultimate goal in life is to learn how to fly.