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Helen of Troy  Reviews


April 17, 2003
Helen of Troy
USA (Sun.-Mon., April 20-21, 8 p.m. ET)
Reviewed by Terry Kelleher

Some viewers giggle at epics that feature guys in tunics shouting about the wrath of the gods. But you'll take this four-hour production very seriously when British actor Rufus Sewell is onscreen. Sewell brings awesome force to the role of Agamemnon, implacable leader of the Greek assault on Troy. On the softer side, Sienna Guillory (The Time Machine) is both innocent and bewitching as Helen, who leaves Agamemnon's brother Menelaus (James Callis) for the Trojan prince Paris (a bland Matthew Marsden) and sets off a 10-year war.

Okay, I snickered at a battle scene that freezes for half a minute — with arrows in midair — while Menelaus and Helen lock eyes. But this mini-series is mostly worth watching.

BOTTOM LINE: Solid spectacle

Genre Online - Helen of Troy

Reviewer: Mark A. Rivera

Executive Producer Adam Shapiro, who was the USA Network’s Senior Vice President of Long Form Programming and was among the talent that bought the Sci-Fi Channel’s acclaimed miniseries “Frank Herbert’s Dune” and the hit USA Miniseries “Attila” to the small screen now brings an epic vision of primal desire, unmatched rage, unquenchable passion, and bloodlust in the face of one of the greatest classic stories ever written. “Helen Of Troy” takes the viewer back to ancient Greece and does not pull any punches in the brutal depiction of the ten-year war between Greece and Troy. There is no way anyone can ever bring Homer’s “The Iliad” to even the small screen and capture the poetic imagery in a four hour miniseries and personally I think no one should since reading the book is an experience so sublime to the imagination that making a dramatization would rob the joy of seeing it in one’s own mind’s eye. In fact the credits do not mention that this is adapted from Homer’s “The Iliad” at all, but I have placed it here because I cannot imagine any dramatization without referencing the source material from where it came or was obviously inspired.

The miniseries stars Rufus Sewell as “Agamemnon,” the ruthless King Of Mycenae who uses Helen’s escape to fuel his ambition of sacking Troy and crowning himself King of the Aegean. Matthew Marsden stars has “Paris” the Prince of Troy whose return to his home with Helen will ultimately bring about the doom of an empire, though the irony of course is that from the ashes of a destroyed Troy, the survivors who escaped would one day conquer Greece as the Roman Empire as referenced in the writings of Virgil. Sienna Guillory is “Helen” and her beauty lights up the screen and is sure to launch more than one thousand ships once this miniseries airs on USA.

Other cast members include John Rhys-Davies as “Priam” King of Troy and Maryam d’Abo as his wife “Hecuba.” James Callis and Stellan Skarsgard star as “Menelaus” King of Sparta and “Theseus” King of Athens respectively. Daniel Lapaine stars as “Hector” Prince of Troy while Emilia Fox stars as “Cassandra” Princess of Troy, and both contribute to the sense of great tragedy that yields the humanity in this brutal depiction of humanity’s most primal behaviors and motives that include wanton lust, sadistic brutality, exploitation and yet is also underpinned with the themes of love and what drives people to war. The themes of fate and history also enhance the scale of the production. Joe Montana is a standout as “Achilles” and has some of the most memorable dialogue in the miniseries. Rufus Sewell is magnificent as “Agamemnon” and as a whole the casting for this miniseries is truly above average.


USA's 'Helen' launches grand return to epics
By Bill Keveney, USA TODAY

The big-screen success of Gladiator propelled other film versions of historical tales, including Alexander the Great, the Trojan War and Hannibal.

But the small screen gets the jump on all of them Sunday and Monday with USA Network's four-hour miniseries Helen of Troy (8 p.m. ET/PT).

Classical sagas may come and go as entertainment fare, but those behind Helen say the essence of the genre always makes sense: Audiences can relate to basic tales of love and war but still feel transported to distant times and places.

Helen had its own successful precursor, Attila, a high-rated 2001 USA miniseries about the legendary plunderer. The story, with roots in Homer's Iliad, also came with many recognizable elements: Helen (Sienna Guillory), the face that launched a thousand ships; Achilles; and the fabled Trojan horse.

"We love the idea of a name people have heard, but a story people have not seen," USA executive vice president Jeff Wachtel says.

The cable network also embraces the idea of a big-event miniseries, even as its broadcast competitors have become more reluctant to schedule multiple-night movies. A miniseries is the type of event that "brings people into the tent," where they might learn about other programming. That's a tougher challenge for cable networks, which don't have the promotional budgets of broadcasters but do face competition from dozens of other programmers, Wachtel says.

Executive producer Adam Shapiro stresses that Helen isn't a love story aimed at female viewers. Sure, the miniseries, which also stars Rufus Sewell and Stellan Skarsgard, tracks the relationship between Helen and Paris, but there also are gladiator-style duels and bloody war. And something else male viewers might find appealing: Helen's naked backside.

Shapiro, who is starting production on Spartacus, says his toughest task may have been finding the right actress to play the legendary beauty. He was three weeks from filming in Malta last year and had no lead actress. On a flight to London, he saw The Time Machine and spotted Guillory, who plays Helen. "If I hadn't taken that particular flight, who knows?"

USA Network offers its version of
'Helen of Troy'

If Homer's account is eye-popping, the teleplay of "Helen of Troy," a two-part, four-hour USA Network movie premiering at 8 p.m. Sunday and Monday, is even more startling.

While Homer - a Greek himself - portrays his countrymen as heroes resolutely trying to rescue Helen, who has been kidnapped by the Trojan prince Paris, USA's "Helen" turns that story on its head:

In the TV movie, the noble Trojans shield Helen from the brutal, war-mongering Greeks, who view her as nothing more than a possession - and convenient excuse to make a major land grab.

It's enough to make Nia Vardalos call for a big fat Greek boycott.

"In his narration, (Helen's husband, King) Menelaus sets things up by saying, "You may think you know the story of Helen and Agamemnon and Paris, but what you have heard is wrong.' In the actual mythology, the Greeks are the heroes and the Trojans are the villains," says executive producer Adam Shapiro.

"But bear in mind, history is always written by the victors. The Greeks won that war, and it is their account we know."

Sienna Guillory, the British actress tapped to play the title role, has her own take on the historical figure.

"In my eyes, Helen was a precocious teenager who almost invited fate to teach her a humbling lesson, yet, at her lowest point of despair, when she feels she has no option but to take her own life rather than live under someone else's stifling oppression, she has the guts to follow her heart and realize her dreams," Guillory said.

"It is far easier to appear heroic with a sword in your hand, so my challenge was to make her human, show her learning curve and her journey to becoming a woman who could live with herself and by the choices she made."

Before flying to Malta where the movie was shot, Guillory spent a lot of time in museums, photographing statues of Greek goddesses to study their posture.

"The great thing about Homer is that he depicts the Greeks as these outrageously passionate and driven people. I'd always imagined that the debauched, orgy-fueled Romans had all the fun, but Homer's Greeks did things that made my jaw drop."

While the original script by Ronni Kern emphasized the love story of Helen and Paris, during preproduction and filming the Trojan War itself began to command central focus.

"When you get lots of men with swords on horses, it gets very exciting and networks like that," Kern laughs. "So instead of using the Trojan War as a backdrop for the love story of Helen and Paris, it became more a story of the Trojan War, with Helen and Paris just in it."

That left Guillory to fill in extensive subtext for her character.

"The challenge of portraying a woman essentially remembered as the victim of vicious circumstance is to never be lazy enough to allow her to act as a victim," the actress explains.

"If I played Helen as a victim, there would be no story and no element of surprise as events unfolded.

Helen of Troy
Apr. 17, 2003
The Hollywood Reporter

By Ray Richmond

8-10 p.m.
Sunday-Monday, April 20-21
USA Network

The miniseries is officially an endangered species. No more than a handful were produced during the past television year, only a couple of those more than the standard two-night, four-hour jobs.

The reason for this near-extinction? The economy, stupid! But you already knew that. Short of multipronged international co-productions, the cost has simply become prohibitive when factored with the return on investment. So with USA Network's "Helen of Troy" (as with last week's "Napoleon" on A&E), we have the last of a breed: the multipart historical epic that's too big to be contained in a single night. And like "Napoleon," "Helen" scores more or less captivatingly.

Not that the two minis have all that much in common other than that they are larger-than-life tales of love and war. (Perhaps that's enough.) This one features evocative details and great costumes from designer Van Broughton Ramsey (think "Flashdance" with armor and sandals). And while this "Helen" breaks the cardinal contemporary rule by forgetting to have a sense of humor about itself, there is nonetheless plenty to admire about it. First and foremost, scribe/co-producer Ronni Kern paints a sweeping portrait with her words that's sufficient to make you want to come back for Night 2, even if many of the performances are on the rigid side.

It doesn't hurt that relative newcomer Sienna Guillory (she was in "The Time Machine" with Guy Pearce) makes an especially alluring Helen. She's all pouty, come-hither attitude and mischievous eyes, the kind of perpetually troubled lass who would be popping Prozac like they were Tums if this were the 21st century. Of course, it isn't. It's the era of togas and breastplates and a lone woman who had a Face That Launched a Thousand Ships. Just what that line means isn't entirely clear. I mean, is a face that launches something always a good thing?

Digression aside, director John Kent Harrison brings the tale of classic literature its requisite grandeur and scope, which isn't always easy when you've got people running around looking vaguely constipated. The tale is that of the war that's fought over the most beautiful woman in the world, Helen, who was born the illegitimate daughter of Zeus (who raped her mother). When your daddy is a Greek god, well, you just know things will never be completely normal. It makes you both flesh and blood but immortal, for one thing.

Helen grows up with this veil of shame surrounding her. She winds up marrying Menelaus (James Callis) against her will and then disgraces him when she has an affair with a hunky young prince, Paris (Matthew Marsden), whose reflection she once saw in a pond. The prince of Troy is Helen's destiny. And while the details always sound silly when described in a review, it flows together well enough and is even plausible in this literative context.

The length doesn't feel excessive here, and the actors all do their jobs with the proper veneer of consequence. There are no nudges and winks underneath the characterizations in this "Helen" that let us know we're watching this through the irony and cynicism of modern eyes. And in properly honoring the material, that's as it should be.

Helen of Troy
USA Network
Fuel Entertainment in association with USA Cable Entertainment
Executive producer: Adam Shapiro
Producer: Ted Kurdyla
Co-producer/writer: Ronni Kern
Associate producer: Judith Craig Marlin
Director: John Kent Harrison
Director of photography: Edward J. Pei
Production designer: James Allen
Costume designer: Van Broughton Ramsey
Editor: Michael Ornstein
Music: Joel Goldsmith
Casting: Janet Hirshenson, Jane Jenkins, Dan Hubbard
Helen: Sienna Guillory
Paris: Matthew Marsden
Agamemnon: Rufus Sewell
Theseus: Stellan Skarsgard
King Priam: John Rhys-Davies
Queen Hecubs: Maryam D'Abo
Cassandra: Emilia Fox
Menelaus: James Callis
Hector: Daniel Lapaine
Odysseus: Nigel Whitmey
Achilles: Joe Montana
Clytemnestra: Katie Blake
Pollux: Craig Kelly
Paris' Father: Manuel Caushi
Iphigenia: Kristina Paris
Atreus: Edward Mercieca

Wednesday, April 16, 2003
Helen of Troy
(Miniseries; USA, Sun. April 20, Mon. April 21, 8 p.m.)

As ambitious as it is, USA's "Helen of Troy" is personality-free folklore, a stiff portrait of mythology that hides within the comfort zones of elaborate costuming, special effects and accents. Somber and stifled in places that call for more user-friendly storytelling, mini's dialogue is full of deep-voiced, toga-clad leaders bellowing from their thrones about loyalty and revenge. To be sure, that's what viewers expect from their sword-and-sandal epics, but it shouldn't be at the expense of overall flavor. Standing out is Sienna Guillory as the title character and Rufus Sewell as Agamemnon, the only thesps who exhibit any sort of range. He's a man who transforms slowly from mere immorality to madness, and she plays the face that launched a thousand ships as a flaky emotional wreck.

Director John Kent Harrison and scribe Ronni Kern only halfway take advantage of the spicy elements that make these legends so tasty. While affairs, murder and war are front-and-center, turning Sparta and its neighboring townships into one big circus where emperors daily hold gladiator battles, women tempt men nightly, everybody cavorts and nobody works, the drama never rises above overbaked theatrics.

Mini's primary focus is the relationship between Helen and Paris (Matthew Marsden). He's a hero who was left to die as an infant (nee Alexandros) on a mountain top in 1238 B.C. after his prophecy-spouting sister, Cassandra (Emilia Fox), told father King Priam (John Rhys-Davies) and mother Queen Hecuba (Maryam D'Abo) that his birth would bring nothing but catastrophe to Troy.

Found by a shepherd, Paris is raised a strong, sensible teen who catches Helen's eye. Knowing they will somehow end up together, Helen returns home to attend the wedding of her sister, Clytemnestra (Katie Blake), to Agamemnon (Sewell), a ruthless snake who has a strange hold over weaker brother Menelaus (James Callis).

After he triumphs in a series of hand-to-hand fights staged for entertainment, Paris eventually is recognized by Priam and Hecuba and is quickly brought back into the family fold as if no time has passed. Back in Sparta, several sovereigns, including Achilles (Joe Montana) and Odysseus (Nigel Whitmey), take an oath to defend each other no matter who ends up with the beautiful but bad-luck-inducing Helen after she's rescued from a thief/kidnapper named Theseus (Stellan Skarsgard). The sovereigns decree that Helen exists only to cause men heartache and create conflict, so they cast lots to determine who among them will wed her, with Menelaus winning her hand.

Ultimately, it's the brothers' loosening bond that portends the destruction of Troy. While Helen runs off with Paris and obtains unofficial citizenship within the city's confines thanks to the kindness of Priam, Agamemnon and Menelaus plan a scheme that kicks off a 10-year stakeout capped by the famed giant horse left behind to serve as an entry for the Aegeans who kill Troy's royalty and seize the metropolis.

"Helen of Troy" is a mixed production bag. Filmed in Malta, the sets and locales aren't used to their full potential; almost nonexistent are the splendorous backdrops and widescreen beauty that viewers have come to expect thanks to "Gladiator." Phoniest of all, however, are the "boxing" matches' ringside cheerers; like an army of extras who were told to shout without any sense of nuance, all of the scenes crafted to showcase the power and fury of animal instincts -- and there are many -- look like badly edited sequences from any number of B movies.

On the flip side, Harrison uses some nifty moves to differentiate the product from so many attempts at re-creating the eras. Notably, handheld cameras are utilized to get close and personal, conveying urgency in scenes that otherwise might have been lensed in a more undistinguished way. Harrison also uses "Matrix"-like stop-shutter techniques that would seem out of place but somehow work here to highlight combat sequences, often with stirring visuals.

Perf-wise, Guillory reps the overall highlight; she takes center stage among a group of more accomplished men. Resembling a young Mia Farrow, her wispiness belies a hard edge that makes totally credible the dangerous allure she presents to a set of suitors. Sewell is burning with passion and anger, and it all comes together when he's forced to sacrifice his young daughter, Iphigenia, in order to provide proper wind currents for his battalion's trip to Troy. Callis is fine as Menelaus, though his transition from evil tyrant to Paris' biggest sympathizer is hardly believable. Two fine actors, Skarsgard as Helen's first lover and Rhys-Davies as the conflicted ruler, are given too little time.

Story's most famous adaptation came in 1956 -- Robert Wise directed and Rossana Podesta starred.
camera, Edward J. Pei; production designer, James Allen; costume designer, Van Broughton Ramsey; editor, Michael Ornstein; music, Joel Goldsmith; casting, Janet Hirshenson, Jane Jenkins, Dan Hubbard. 4 HOURS

VarietyWed., Apr. 23, 2003, Los Angeles


NEW YORK -- USA's "Helen of Troy," which aired Sundayand Monday, averaged 4.1 million viewers. Numbers fell behind USA's most recent made-for, "Rudy," which took in 4.3 million viewers.

Neither event was able to conquer numbers of USA's "Attila," which seized 7 million viewers back in 2001.

First part of "Helen" nabbed 4.3 million viewers. It was the top-rated cable program Sunday night, besting Nickelodeon's "Spongebob" (3.7 million) and "Dora the Explorer" (3.5 million) and the NBA playoffs on TNT (3 million).


April 18, 2003 -- ONE of the biggest sagas of all time, Homer's The Iliad, which introduced the idea of a face that could launch a thousand ships, is now a television movie.

Unless you've been in jail, you cannot have missed the billboards, telephone booths and buses advertising USA's "Helen of Troy" (of the fleet's-in "Helen") that declare: "Desire Is War."

I've seen the miniseries and I still have no idea what the hell that means!

Like the Trojan War it depicts, parts of "Helen of Troy" are great and parts of it aren't - but it should have been and it could have been. That's not to say it's not worth the watch - it is. It's just not as compelling as the story that has lasted for all these centuries.

It is, of course, the story of the world's most beautiful woman, who finds out, much to her dismay while being kidnapped by a king, that she really isn't the other king's daughter, but the illegitimate daughter of the god, Zeus.

Finding out you're the offspring of a god can be off-putting enough.

However, finding out that your mother jumped off the walls of Sparta because she was so beautiful that she had to be raped by a big-deal diety is enough to send a girl into the arms of, well, everyone. Suffering from the Stockholm syndrome (before there was a Sweden), Helen falls in love with the first of her kidnappers.

Like Liza Minelli, who was doomed to repeat her mother's fate, so poor Helen is doomed to repeat her mother's. So many kidnappings, so many rapes, so little time!

Helen (Sienna Guillory) is kidnapped a few more times as her father throws her to all the other kings saying whoever wants her can take her out with the trash. Since she is the most beautiful woman who ever lived, the assembled kings draw lots for her. King Menelaus wins. Then she has to walk naked.

Of course, she gets kidnapped again, but this time it's by her true love Paris (Mathew Marsden), a shepherd who is really the son of King Priam (John Rhys-Davies) of Sparta.

He was supposed to be killed as an infant when his sister predicted at his birth that if he lived, he'd destroy Troy. The directions got botched up and he lived by mistake.

Now she's run off with a prince leaving King Menelaus (James Callis) empty handed. Of course he's not the only one who desires her. There's his brother Agamemnon (Rufus Sewell) who is already married to Helen's sister, but still he wants her and he wants her badly.

The brothers make a deal - they will go to war and Menelaus will get Helen and Agamemnon will get Sparta. To the victor go the spoils and the brothers think this is a fair split of spoils. Go figure.

The war scenes are terrific and most of the acting is absolutely first rate. So what's wrong?

The actress they picked for world's most beautiful woman used to be a model and, although her acting is pretty good (anyone sounds legit with an English accent, with the possible exception of Madonna), she looks too much like a 21st-Century, pouty model, and not enough like, say, Sophia Loren.

I mean, how many men would wage a 10-year war for a woman without any meat to her?

And really, her personality stinks.

Besides that, the leads have zero chemistry together. It makes you doubt the wisdom of killing all those zillions of people and building a big wooden horse in the first place.



After All These Eons, She's Still a Tunic-Ripper


The understatement of several millennia: Helen of Troy was a dude magnet.

This Spartan beauty pitted brother against brother, nation against nation, and unsettled the carefully calibrated harmony on Mount Olympus. And the epic tale of love and war gives cable producers a high-brow reason to deliver lust and bloodshed in one extravagant package.

The USA Network is hoping "Helen of Troy" will lure lovers of historical carnage or just lovers in general. In every third scene or so, tunics are ripped either in battle or in passion. The warfare scenes mimic "Gladiator" without Ridley Scott's somber shadows and flung mud. The love scenes borrow from soap operas, with the camera volleying back and forth between the stares of the amorous, who break the silence with utterances like, "Without you, I have nothing."

All too often, the acting is empty-headed and the screenplay vacuous, but at minimum, the story is packed with human emotion and geopolitical consequence. Its subject has name recognition. Its cast includes the steely British actor Rufus Sewell as Agamemnon and the underutilized Swedish actor Stellan Skarsgard as Theseus. And as star-crossed Helen and Paris, the producers chose Sienna Guillory and Matthew Marsden. She's a vision of makeup endurance in all weather conditions, and he's a paragon of bench pressing.

True to Bulfinch, the production makes much of a towering wooden horse, with wily Greeks lurking in its hollow center. The mini-series has another secret weapon. On each night of the two-parter, the director, John Kent Harrison, redirects his longing lens from Ms. Guillory's blue eyes to show her walking away from the camera, in the altogether.

Nudity, as acting contracts often require, proves arguably integral to the plot. In one instance, Helen gives revelers at the bachelor party of her fiancÚ, Menelaus, an eyeful of exactly what they have pledged to defend. In another posterior moment, she enters a pool slowly with her Trojan lover, Paris, who, when unmoved, is asked, "Why so sad?" Paris is unlucky in all but love, and as his world implodes, he has at least won Helen's heart and with it, we are urged to consider, the hips that launched a thousand ships.

Those very vessels are now at the shores of his father's kingdom, ready to reclaim Menelaus's wayward wife. "Desire is war," the show's poster declares. And as tempted as this production is to reduce the 10-year conflict to hormones alone, there are other motives at work. Paris's brother Hector explains that Troy is a gateway to spices of the Middle East. "I can't believe that people go to war over nutmeg," Paris says, approximating a political message.

Family dynamics also get in the way of peace. Agamemnon sends his younger brother ahead of him into mortal combat, hoping that jealousy will make Menelaus do his dirty work. Sibling rivalry stokes the histrionics on the Trojan side, too. Hector reluctantly accepts Paris as a long-lost (and cuter) brother, and the middle child, Cassandra, does her bug-eyed best to make her baby brother feel entirely and eternally unwelcome. (If only a Peloponnesian Dr. Phil could have emerged from the horse's belly.)

Too bad for Troy that Cassandra's doomsaying was dead right. With her voice amping up the collective volume, there are enough wails and woes to send a soap opera into sweeps month. Greek mythologizers clearly had no shortage of ideas to pump up the pathos: a mutant seer calling the shots before a battle, a child submitting to sacrifice at her father's hand, a wandering beauty left compromised by a waterfowl. The latter occurs off camera, but the director makes sure to take skin and gore as far as it can go in prime time, making the most of cable's looser rules.

This pagan saga is played out during Easter week, which might make monotheistic viewers feel a little superior. Apart from that, there is little new to recommend to anyone familiar with the classics. The costumes are splendid but not imaginative. The soundtrack seems inspired by both Enya and electro-clash. The landscapes are handsome but marred with computer-enhanced fleets and phalanxes. The sets are expensive but too reliant on pale pinks and blues, as when fanciful decorators "go Mediterranean" on episodes of "Changing Rooms."

This is meant to be a pop production, with the network aiming for audiences as large as its record-setting "Attila" drew in 2001. As much as "Helen of Troy" strips its cast to bare essences, the mini-series takes down to a new starkness a text that has long inspired rhyming bards. In a final supernatural reverie, the lovers Helen and Paris ponder war, and what it could possibly be good for: "War is waged by nations, but it is human beings who pay the price," we are told, along with this concluding balm: "The only thing we have left to hang onto is love." And hang they do, for long, wordless pauses.


USA, Sunday at 8, Eastern and Pacific times; 7, Central time; and Monday at 8, Eastern and Pacific times; 7, Central time.

Directed by John Kent Harrison; Adam Shapiro, executive producer. Produced by Fuel Entertainment.

WITH: Sienna Guillory (Helen), Matthew Marsden (Paris), Rufus Sewell (Agamemnon), Stellan Skarsgard (Theseus), John Rhys-Davies (King Priam), Maryam D'Abo (Queen Hecuba), Emilia Fox (Cassandra), James Callis (Menelaus), Daniel Lapaine (Hector), Nigel Whitmey (Odysseus), Joe Montana (Achilles), Katie Blake (Clytemnestra), Craig Kelly (Pollux), Manuel Cauchi (Paris's father) and Kristina Paris (Iphigenia).

Ned Martel writes about television for The Financial Times.





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