The Iliad in movies and tv series

Centuries ago, the Greek poet Homer brought into the attention of the polis’s agora the Iliad, an epic poem written using the dactylic hexameter. Considered to be one of the greatest and heroic stories of all time, it represented nonetheless a point of interest to screenwriters and movie makers from the very beginning of cinematography. Throughout the generations, directors have tried to portray the poem and rewrite the story in their own way using the specific tools of their time in order to recreate the tales of Achilles and Odysseus in accordance to the movie trends and preference of their audience. 

The first major representation would be Robert’s Wise Helen of Troy, a movie produced by none other than the Warner Bros, in color. Wise’s creation focuses on the love story between Paris and Helen and the military conflict linked to them. However, it seemed that their affair did not enable a war to occur, I would rather say it only had a role to intensify it as the movie presents the Trojan War as inevitable. Their romance gives the viewer that vibe usually found in masterpieces like Casablanca, one of the greatest cinematographic creations of all time. Achilles, the hero of the war, is portrayed by Stanley Baker, who had an astonishing performance. 

It took about 15 years in the American moviemaking industry for another movie related to this epic story to be made. This time Academy Award winner Michael Cacoyannis brought to the screen a feminist reinterpretation of the tale in The Trojan Women. Here the main character is Hecuba, played by the great actress Katherine Hepburn, a Trojan queen that is in mourning. The movie aims to present something different than usual, in this situation the effects of the Trojan War rather than a love story, a general grief generated by the death of Hector and the fall of the city and the particular fact that Astyanax, the son of Andromache and Hector,  will be murdered by the Greeks who took the city in order to ensure that Troy has no heir. The finale is not conclusive, since the destiny of Cassandra is not revealed, nor is Helen’s both awaiting a cruel outcome of either sexual slavery or death.

In 1977, Cacoyannis releases another movie, but this time, the action occurs before the Trojan War. In this situation the film presents the situation of Iphigenia, who has to be sacrificed by Agamemnon in order to please the goddess Artemis.

In 2003, after 26 years of waiting there was another screen representation available. This time in the format of a mini-series, or in other words a movie that was divided into two episodes. The vibe of the movie consists in a classical image of Greece from the time of Homer himself instead of the Bronze Age event. This particular movie aims to recreate the storyline intended my Homer, but according to the critics, it focuses on the war itself and disregards non-military conflicts that are central in The Iliad, such as a more significant presence of the gods.

An interesting fact about this film is that headline actors such as John Rhys-Davies and Stellan Skarsgard play secondary characters, while the main characters were played by B listers. 

Out of all the movies, the one that drew attention the most is Troy from 2004, directed by Wolfgang Peterson and written by David Benioff.

The creators definitely aimed to present the story in a unique way, but one should not expect a copy of The Iliad. Even back then, Benioff was full of surprises and decided therefore to actually rewrite the story, the characters being rather tools in this process. The purpose was to give a more realistic view of the story. However, it seriously disregarded historical facts that will be presented later. The realistic part meant that no mythical elements were introduced in the movie, like Olympian Gods, Amazons, prophecies or other fantasy elements, with one exception, which was a reference to another classical poem, The Aeneid, with Aeneas being given the sword of Troy in order to continue the legacy of the City. Paris as well is a different character, being from the very beginning a prince of Troy and part of the royal family. On the other hand, Achilles’ path to eternal glory is followed in terms of aim so is Odysseus’ trickery and cunning.

The writer surprised the audience similar to Game of Thrones when he decided that Menelaus (portrayed by Brendan Gleeson) will die in the first half of the movie, unlike the poem in which he returns home with his woman alongside him.

The cast was epic, an all star game. Achilles was played by Brad Pitt, which gave us the opportunity to see him probably in his best physical shape of his acting career. This time Sean Bean does not die, probably because of the particular reason that Odysseus will eventually return home, not to mention that he is assigned the role of the narrator as well. After a successful Lord of the Rings role, we saw Orlando Bloom come to play Paris. Other notable actors are that were casted were Peter O’Toole in the role of king Priam,  Diane Kruger who portrays Helen and Brian Cox as Agamemnon. 

While watching it, I realized that this film literally reunites actors from some other epic movies, and I mean by that Braveheart and the Lord of the Rings, sprinkled with some Brad Pitt and Diane Kruger.

After watching a group of archeologists reacting to the Troy movie of 2004, I realized that it lacked some of the specific details of the Bronze Age as well. However, in comparison to the older versions, it tried to present weapons, some of the armors or clothing that were in accordance with archeological discoveries, but the exaggerated use of metal and architectural patterns made the movie show some major inaccuracies.

Last but not least, the most recent remake was made by Netflix and BBC in 2018, under the name Troy:Fall of a City, a ten episode series. In my opinion, one movie would not suffice to present the poem, but my running eight hours enables the writers to cover as much as possible. Every episode managed to contain the important bits of the main themes, such as the involvement of the gods in the world, the romance of Paris and Helen, the path of Achilles or Odysseus. Here one can see the whole prophecy that leads to the destruction of the city, how Paris was abandoned to the wolves, or how he met the three goddess and chose the golden apple of Aphrodite, following his heart. 

Unlike previous movies, Odysseus plays a major role in the series, his tricks and slyness being exploited to a whole new level. All the more, the Netflix made series tried to correct some previous mistakes, by adapting both the architecture and apparel in the light of the Mycenaean civilization. The only exception that I think would not be accurate would consist in presenting quite evolved diplomacy based on extensive dialogue or the way the alliances were made.

The older versions disregard completely historical facts, giving the sensation that events would have occurred during the classical period of Greece, as I have mentioned above.  

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