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.
Executive Producer Adam Shapiro,
who was the USA Networks Senior Vice President of Long Form Programming and was
among the talent that bought the Sci-Fi Channels acclaimed miniseries Frank
Herberts 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 Homers 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 ones own minds eye. In fact
the credits do not mention that this is adapted from Homers 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 Helens 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 dAbo 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 humanitys 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
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
"We love the idea of a name people
have heard, but a story people have not seen," USA executive vice president Jeff
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'
By JOHN CROOK
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
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
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
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
Sunday-Monday, April 20-21
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,
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
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
Variety Wednesday, April 16, 2003 Helen of Troy
(Miniseries; USA, Sun. April 20, Mon. April 21, 8 p.m.)
By MICHAEL SPEIER 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
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
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
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
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).
WHY HELEN OF
TROY IS JUST LIKE LIZA MINELLI
By LINDA STASI 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
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
By NED MARTEL
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
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
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.
HELEN OF TROY
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.