I should be in bed, but it’s Saturday night, live a little. I happened upon this TV movie – Helen of Troy – and, as I’ve just started to actually properly read The Illiad (as opposed to putting it down after two paragraphs of clanging armour and intestinal losses), I thought “Hmm, give it a go, could be fun”.
How right I was. I started watching with an hour to go, and the duel between Paris and Menelaus was just starting. Hmm, I thought. But ok, maybe it’s in two parts, or something. Menelaus stepped forward, and was about 12. His bullying older brother Agamemnon (Rufus Sewell, not – I hope you notice – a redhead) was clearly the ringleader in this. I wondered if they’d stay with the text and have Aphrodite swoop in to save Paris. Probably not, on balance. Go with the Wolfgang Petersen version, much less silly.
So they fight, and tussle and such, then a mist appears and – this is lovely – they sit down for a chat. Menelaus asks after Helen, Paris doesn’t do much because Agamemnon poisoned the javelin used in the fight. Whatever. They both emerge unscathed from the mist and people look a bit miffed. Especially Agamemnon, who wants Troy, dagnabit. And Hector, oh yes Hector decides to take Paris’s place.
Meanwhile, I’m eyeing up the background characters, thinking “That looks like an Odysseus, and maybe that’s Diomedes with the slaphead. Or Ajax, could be Ajax..” and then the less-than-hirsute one steps forward and basically says “I AM ACHILLES! RAARRRRR! FEAR MY BALDNESS!!!!1!!!!”
WTF? I realise this is all about the Helen, but come on! The whole entire book is about Achilles sulking in his tent! What’s he doing here just after the duel of Paris and Menelaus? I was smiling quite broadly at this point. What next? He tells Hector to have the first throw, and turns his big bald back. And now I give you a script excerpt. Honest to god.
ACHILLES: You should have killed me when you had the chance.
HECTOR: I don’t fight that way.
ACHILLES: I do! Rarrrr!
[ACHILLES throws spear through HECTOR’S chest]
PARIS: Achilles..! Take.. me..!
ACHILLES: DIE, HECTOR!!
[Pulls out spear, rams it back in, shakes it about]
I am not joking. Then he – as suggested by Homer – ties the body to the bumper of his chariot and he’s off, and he just kind of goes away. When he turns up a little bit later (killed by Paris, arrow through the ankle, if you must know) in his chariot, I half expected Hector to still be bump, bump, bumping along behind. Sadly, he wasn’t. But I shall cherish “DIE, HECTOR!!” for a long time.
Also, when they found the horse was pretty classy, too. Apparently the Greeks built it so big reckoning that the Trojans wouldn’t be able to fit it in their gates. “Oh, yeah? Well, we’ll show them!” said the Trojans. They didn’t actually say it, but boy was reverse psychology much easier then, or what?