A Tale of Two Troys

When I saw that Netflix Original, Troy: Fall of a City, was added to Netflix, I got pretty excited. I’ve been a fan of The Illiad and the Odyssey ever since I saw the Armand Asante led 1997 mini-series two decades ago. I was only ten years old at the time, but the decade long journey of Odysseus traveling home after the siege of Troy captivated me.

What’s not to love as a kid interested in monsters and myth? Throughout Odysseus’ journey home, he encounters sirens, Calypso, cannibals, Cyclops’ and more.

I used to enjoy…well still do enjoy, talking about the idiom “caught between a rock and a hard place.” There are varying explanations for the saying, but I always attached it to Odysseus traveling towards Scylla, a six headed monster and Charybdis, a deadly whirlpool. Scylla dwelled on cavern walls that Odysseus had to travel through while Charybdis laid at the mouth of the cavern. Odysseus was caught between a rock (Scylla) and a hard place (Charybdis). He chose rock, and lost six men getting away from Scylla.

While The Odyssey mini-series taught me of Odysseus’ journey after the Trojan war, the 2004 release of Troy showed us the highlights of The Illiad in a more spectacular fashion. This movie is absolutely stacked with actors and great casting. We have Eric Bana playing Hector, Orlando Bloom as Paris, Diane Kruger as Helen, Brenden Gleeson as Menelaus, Sean Bean not dying as Odysseus, Brian Cox as Agamemnon and of course, Brad Pitt as Achilles.

Seeing Troy propelled me towards reading Homer’s Illiad and Odyssey, although I was likely too young to really make sense of most of it. I admit that at this point I do not remember most of the actual text, character descriptions or minor events, but the major events are fresh in my mind. Because of this, I thought it would be fun to talk about 2004’s Troy and 2018’s, Troy: Fall of a City series to compare certain characters and aspects of each.

One thing to mention before jumping in is that Troy: Fall of a City has eight episodes, giving us close to eight hours of story compared to Troy’s two and a half hours. TV shows always have the opportunity to express more character depth than movies due to the medium. I understand that going into this, but it doesn’t always mean that the Netflix Original is successful.

For those of you unaware of the story of The Illiad, here is a very brief summary. Trojan Princes Hector and Paris (also named Alexander in Fall of a City)  travel across the Aegean Sea to break bread with Menelaus, Spartan King and his wife Helen, heralded as the most beautiful woman in the world. Paris and Helen fall in love and conspire together to bring Helen back to Troy, unbeknownst to Menelaus. He, of course, gets very upset at this and tells his brother Agamemnon, King of Argos and commander of Greece’s armies. Agamemnon calls the banners of the Greek Kings and warriors, and all sail together to Troy to reclaim Helen.

Each of these two iterations had a different focus. Troy, concentrated mostly on Achilles, Hector and the conflict that Paris and Helen’s decision created among the key players. Fall of a City went the opposite route and focused mostly on Paris and Helen, sending other characters into more supporting roles.

I’m going to go through a few character comparisons, as well as bring up some other points on each iteration of the story that we’ve been presented, and then close out with some final thoughts.

Achilles

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Left: Brad Pitt (Troy) and Right: David Gyasi (Troy: Fall of a City) both portraying Achilles.

With the aforementioned focus of each of these iterations, David Gyasi comes in at a disadvantage, already being behind simply because Brad Pitt is involved.

Brad Pitt played the perfect Achilles. He was arrogant, passive, not caring about Agamemnon or the cause and only is concerned about himself. He has many opportunities to show off his skill and physical prowess, including one of my favorite fight scenes ever between Eric Bana’s Hector and himself.

Despite going up against Brad Pitt, I really did enjoy David Gyashi’s portrayal of Achilles. He was just as foreboding, physically skilled and his token arrogance did come across even more due to his screen time.

We get to see more of his conflict with Agamemnon, his respect of Odysseus, pride of his possessions and honor as a warrior. After watching through Fall of a City, I was satisfied with everything Achilles was a part of, but really just left myself wanting to see Brad Pitt’s Achilles taking part in the scenes rather than David Gyasi. Brad Pitt’s screen appeal and charisma is just too powerful as Achilles.

Hector

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Left: Eric Bana (Troy) and Right: Tom Weston-Jones (Troy: Fall of a City) both portraying Hector.

Like Brad Pitt’s Achilles, going into Fall of a City, I felt that Eric Bana’s portrayal is perfect. There are a few reasons for this.

First, I felt that Hector had experience and has been hardened throughout his life as a Commander of the Trojan army. We don’t see these battles happen, but he makes reference to them and he holds the respect of the other Trojan leaders throughout the film. This also gets added depth with his viewpoints on the Gods in general, which I expand on a little bit later.

The second point is Hector’s overall respect for all of his actions. He’s a noble leader and someone I would be proud to follow and serve because of how he treats the situation that they are in. He knows it’s dire, awful and avoidable, yet he finds himself thrown in the middle anyway, to meet whatever fate finds him.

Eric Bana’s Hector killing Patrocles is heartbreaking. Because of how Hector is built up throughout the film, you know that he would not have killed him if he had thought he wasn’t fighting Achilles. When he finds out that he killed (in this version) Achilles’ cousin, he is resigned and he knows his fate. He must face off against Achilles and knows that he is not up to that challenge. It’s tough to watch Hector leave his wife and child to Achilles’ ‘HECTOR’ chants blasting off in the background.

While Tom Weston-Jones is not bad as an actor, I just never believe that he is Hector, Prince of Troy, Commander of the Trojan armies. He’s very young, and because of that, the hardened veteran with untold victories on the battlefield just doesn’t work the same as if you have someone like Eric Bana as the role.

Agamemnon

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Left: Johnny Haris (Troy: Fall of a City) and Right: Brian Cox (Troy) both portraying Agamemnon.

Brian Cox played an imposing Agamemnon back in 2004. I thought he struck a balance between menacing, powerful and calculating all at once. The downside to his performance, is that he doesn’t receive much depth beyond that of ‘powerful King character’.

The approach with Johnny Haris’s iteration is much better. Before even sailing for Troy, we get to see Agamemnon sacrifice his own daughter to make the journey. You get catapulted to the era of the gods and the acts that these men committed to appease them. You feel awful for his daughter, all the while understanding why they did the things they did.

Would it be ridiculous to think back then that maybe waiting a few days would change the direction of the wind? Not really. Every action had implications behind them. The harvest was better this year for this reason, we haven’t received ample rain fall for that reason. It’s all compelling to me and it’s brought to life more in Fall of a City.

Character Aging

I’ve spoken of this already when referring to Tom Weston-Jones’ portrayal of Hector. One aspect that fell flat for me in Fall of a City, are the ages, and subsequently, behavior of some of the characters.

I feel like in some movies and TV shows, there is a real effort made to make the main characters as attractive as possible, rather than casting to fit the role. We’ve seen this type of thing one hundred times before (looking at you The Magicians and Chronicles of Shannarra). Watching through Fall of a City, do you believe that Jonas Armstrong’s Menelaus is intimidating enough to be King of Sparta? Is Tom Weston-Jones’s Hector imposing enough to lead the Trojan armies? Both of these hardened warriors, along with Paris, feel like they are in their mid-twenties without much experience in actual battle, yet they command armies.

I may be unfairly comparing Fall of an City to Troy, but I felt the characters were more believable in the latter. Brenden Gleeson always carries with him this daunting presence, but I thoroughly enjoyed how despite this aura he holds, he still bends the knee and seems a little afraid of his brother, Agamemnon.

I feel there is one exception to this, Paris. His behavior is supposed to exhibit that of an immature teenager who chooses attractive women over things like power and admiration. I feel like they could have even aged him down a bit more in Fall of a City and gradually aged him up as the siege commenced, giving us a better sense of maturity throughout the story for him.

I had the same issue with last year’s release of Valerian. I enjoy Dane DeHaan as an actor, but do I believe him to be a Major? No. It may seem like a petty issue to have with a TV show that ultimately does succeed in its vision, but in Fall of a City, I found myself enjoying characters like Agamemnon, Achilles and Odysseus much more than Paris, Hector and Menelaus because I felt the character depictions were more believable.

It’s been years since I’ve read through The Illiad and I’m honestly not sure if ages are mentioned anywhere. If I’m wrong and reading this incorrectly, please let me know.

Other Points

There were two details I noticed that were absent from 2004’s Troy, but present in Troy: Fall of a City that made me think some aspects of the story were a bit much for the 2004 film.

  • Achilles and Patrocles have very different relationships. Troy features Patrocles as being related to Achilles and his cousin while 2018’s Fall of a City commits to them being lovers. Other major story beats played out similarly such as Hector accidentally killing Patrocles, believing him to be Achilles, and Achilles overall protectiveness towards Patrocles.
  • Troy has Hector say to his wife Andromache that if the Greeks breach the walls of Troy, they will kill all the men, take the women as slaves and throw the babies from the city walls. Fall of a City takes it a step further and shows Agamemnon force Odysseus to throw a baby off the city walls.

Length of Time: Fall of a City does a better job with attempting to show that 10 years have passed, mostly with how broken the soldiers seem. Interestingly enough, they make no real noticeable effort to age any of the actors to reflect a ten year advance in the story. Troy, likely due to the format, makes no effort at this and gives you the impression the siege lasts around two weeks.

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Trojan beach landing at the hands of the Greeks (Troy). Apollo’s temple can be seen in the background which gets sacked and destroyed by Achilles and his Myrmidons.

Hector and the Gods: One aspect that I loved after watching Troy again is the apprehension in the Gods that Hector exhibits. There are multiple times that the Gods are brought up to Hector and he scoffs at the Trojans over confidence when the Greeks come to their shores. He sarcastically asks how many legions Apollo commands and brings up the very valid point that he saw Apollo’s temple getting desecrated by Achilles and the Myrmidons, yet Apollo didn’t strike the men down.

Hector acts as more of a foil to characters such as Priam or even Agamemnon, who sacrifices his own daughter to sail towards Troy. Hector as a realist and skeptic when it comes to the Gods and it injects another dimension to the characters and he gets to play that skepticism off of the Trojan leadership as he tries to win a war without symbols and signs.

Priam is Awful In Both Versions: I feel somewhat sympathetic towards Priam during the Illiad. His city, which he has spent decades flourishing, is all becoming undone because of one of his sons love for someone he shouldn’t have fallen in love with. He didn’t ask for the conflict with the Greeks, but he also never comes to terms with what’s happening to his city and his people.

It’s a classic case of feeling like you’re invincible. Troy has its walls; they’ve never been breached so logic falls by the way side. They desecrated the Temple of Apollo, of course we’ll win now, the Gods are ticked off. Priam never recovers from this and evolves his thinking and thus, loses everything because of it.

Final Thoughts

It can be tough comparing two bodies of work like this. One is a film, the other an eight episode series.

A film can be more focused and driven on certain ideas or plot points with the downside of needing to streamline those ideas, or leave off entire subplots just to meet an acceptable run time. A television series can give you more time to sit with each of the characters, get to know them and get attached.

This unravels when the main characters you are following aren’t that likable. Fall of a City chooses to focus on Paris/Alexander and Helen. While I believe they did move Paris along during the story from an unseasoned noble visiting Sparta and turning into a General/Commander, the change just wasn’t that believable to me.

After Hector’s death, Paris/Alexander becomes Commander in his place. What battles had he won? What strategies had he created and implemented? He does shepherd the tunnel idea and risk his life going out to Cilicia to start a supply line, but that does not give him authority over an army.

Troy opted to focus more on the characters of Hector and Achilles, and benefited from this. It’s hard to deny that allure of Brad Pitt in any film nowadays. For myself, every time Achilles is on screen in Troy, I didn’t want to look away. Couple that with Eric Bana’s portrayal of Hector as a Trojan Commander trying to do what’s best for both his family and people and you have a great combination.

From a viewer’s standpoint, I’m excited to get both of these versions. They are both watchable and have their strengths and weaknesses. I saw one description of Troy: Fall of a City as BBC’s Game of Thrones, and that’s just not the case. Game of Thrones has a scale to it that’s not easily matched. What I do know, is that I would love to see a show with Sean bean as Odysseus going through his journey home in The Odyssey.

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Lets get Sean Bean on that journey home as Odysseus, as portrayed in Troy.

Thanks for checking out this comparison of Troy (2004) and Troy: Fall of a City (2018). If you’re interested in more from me, follow me on all the things or check out my site here: I Wasn’t Prepared For This.

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