Troy: Fall of a City Brings the Patriarchy – With a Dash of Feminism

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Are you watching Troy: Fall of a City (2018) on Netflix? This recent BBC TV miniseries takes another stab at the Trojan War, relying to some degree on Homer’s Illiad — yes, there are gods and goddesses playing their roles in the story.

I made it about 10 minutes into the first episode and got annoyed at all the patriarchy, as the focus was on Paris, the son of the King and Queen of Troy, but who’s been raised by a herder and doesn’t know his own origins. But since there’s NOTHING ELSE TO WATCH (FLAIL), I went back to the show and am now plugging away at it — and I’m decently entertained! There’s nothing groundbreaking, but it’s solid.

It turns out they’re actually trying to make it somewhat feminist, in that one of the reasons Helen runs off with Paris (and she does choose to run off, she’s not kidnapped) is because in Sparta, she’s subservient to her husband King Menelaus, but in Troy, Queen Hecuba rules alongside King Priam. It’s nice to see the female characters given some agency, although on the other hand it would be interesting to see the dynamic if Helen were actually kidnapped. I will say, I get being upset that your wife has been kidnapped. However, since in this version Helen wanted to run off, it seems like a ludicrous thing to go to war over. But, men.

The main thing a lot of people are noticing is the diverse casting. Achilles, Zeus, Athena, and Hera, and multiple other characters are all played by people of color. According to Variety,

Classical historian Bettany Hughes was an adviser on the series, and Farr noted that genuine historical accuracy was not a viable option. “No one knows if Homer’s version of [around 1200 B.C.E.], which was written 500 years later, is truthful to anything specific, anything particular, or whether it wasn’t an entirely mythic thing.

“You can’t cast Hittites as Trojans; I’d love to do it but sadly there are none available!” said Farr, adding: “We are not claiming that Achilles was actually Ethiopian any more than if a black actor played [King] Arthur. It is simply a casting decision. Whoever came and inhabited the spirit of the characters best we decided to cast” (‘Troy: Fall of a City’ Team Talk Casting and Diversity in the BBC and Netflix Epic).

Troy: Fall of a City (2018)

Actor David Gyasi plays Achilles.

The costumes were designed by Diana Cilliers (Crusoe, Women in Love, the rebooted RootsTutankhamunKnightfall). Sadly the show doesn’t seem to be doing well enough to have warranted any interviews with Cilliers, although there’s a few bits in interviews with cast members:

Bella Dayne (Helen): The costumes we have on the show are absolutely incredible, and fed into my character right from the very start. I talked to Diana Cilliers, the costume designer, and I got really excited. At the first fitting I was bouncing around because I felt like every different costume fed so much into each scene, whether it’s this colour reflecting how she feels in a moment, or a particular set of jewellery feeling like it’s restricting her. Every detail informs the scene and makes me, and, in turn, Helen feel a certain way. It’s been a privilege collaborating with Diana and talking about different scenes and what works with what (Troy: Fall of a City | Interview with Bella Dayne).

David Gyasi (Achilles): The amazing work of the design team really helps you get into character, too. There was something about how powerful the costume makes you feel. It just makes you stand tall. There was just fantastic communication between all the departments, so that if we’ve choreographed something that is then impossible to do in a particular costume because of the way it holds you then they’d adapt it or make it out of other material. There’s one costume I have that’s a leather armour, which is great for one on one battles. You wouldn’t go into a massive war scene with it, but where Achilles meets someone one on one – which without giving too much away happens a few times in the series – it’s fantastic for movement and it helps Achilles’ speed and agility (BBC).

Let’s look at some of the major characters and how they’re costumed:

Troy - Fall of a City

The Greek women wear lots of white, LOTS of shells as decoration…

Troy: Fall of a City (2018)

Lots of elaborate stuff around the neck, like this gold/bronze circle whosiwhatsit…

Troy: Fall of a City (2018)

And then this sheer ruff, with shells? beads that look like shells? around it.

Troy - Fall of a City

Shells are a huge motif for the Spartan women (including Helen’s daughter Hermione), which seemed somewhat random to me as Paris points out that Sparta is inland while Troy is on the coast.

Troy - Fall of a City

Hermione again. Shells in the hair, gold shell shapes on the necklace.

Troy: Fall of a City (2018)

While the Trojan women wear darker colors…

Troy - Fall of a City

…as does Helen as she adjusts to life in Troy.

Troy - Fall of a City

Here’s Andromache (Chloe Pirrie of An Inspector Calls) in black.

Troy: Fall of a City (2018)

Andromache again in blue/burgundy (that’s Hector on the right – he’s All Beef, All the Time).

Troy: Fall of a City (2018)

Hecuba (Frances O’Connor of Mansfield ParkThe Importance of Being EarnestTimeline, Iron Jawed Angels, Mr. Selfridge) in a grey-ish color.

Troy - Fall of a City

And blue. Note those colored beads.

Troy: Fall of a City (2018)

EVERYONE is into headdresses, both in Greece…

Troy - Fall of a City

Iphigenia, also Greek.

Troy: Fall of a City (2018)

And also in Troy.

Troy - Fall of a City

The colored beads in Andromache’s headdress coordinate with Hecuba’s necklace above.

Troy: Fall of a City (2018)

Nobody owns more than 2 hairpins, and poor Cassandra doesn’t own a comb.

Troy: Fall of a City (2018)

I particularly like the look of Priam, with his facial hair and Turkish-esque accessories (Troy being in modern-day Turkey).

Troy - Fall of a City

There’s a lot of interesting textures on the boys, like Paris.

Troy: Fall of a City (2018)

I’m not at all sure what the goddesses are wearing.

Troy: Fall of a City (2018)

Athena looks pretty badass.

Troy: Fall of a City (2018)

But Aphrodite seems like she’s going with a camo/Greek bathing suit? (Note weird body art)

 

Are you watching Troy: Fall of a City? What are your thoughts?

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About the author

Kendra

Website

Kendra has been a fixture in the online costuming world since the late 1990s. Her website, Démodé Couture, is one of the most well-known online resources for historical costumers. In the summer of 2014, she published a book on 18th-century wig and hair styling. Kendra is a librarian at a university, specializing in history and fashion. She’s also an academic, with several articles on fashion history published in research journals.

30 Responses

  1. 992234177

    Goddesses look quite young, surely Athena could be a bit older. Ageism is still an ism.

    Reply
    • hsc

      Even with mythological beings where the mythology explicitly says they’re eternally youthful?

      Reply
    • Jeanne

      ??? she’s a goddess. a virgin, maiden goddess it must be said, generally implied to be quite young, but of course, she can, and does, appear however she chooses

      Reply
  2. Emmalia Harrington

    Those elaborate beaded headdresses combined with loose hair makes me wonder how bad the tangles got when it cam time to remove them.

    Reply
  3. Charity

    Hated every single character. Except maybe the goddesses… but they’re not in it enough to make it worthwhile.

    Reply
  4. indiaedghill

    Once, just ONCE, I would like to see movies/TV shows that are set in the Mycenaean Age dressed properly! Where are the flounced skirts and tight, breast-exposing bodices on upper-class women? The tailored kilts on the upper-class men? And…what’s with all the cowrie shells? Are they a DEW system so everyone knows you’re in the vicinity?

    Once. Just ONCE, could everything ever set in Greece NOT be costumed out of the “Classical, by way of Fortuny” period?

    Reply
    • Rori

      You should check out the Age of Bronze comic! That adaptation actually depicted the Greeks in Mycenaean clothing very accurately.

      Reply
      • IndiaEdghill

        I adore Age of Bronze! I own the set of collected issues and am in awe of the research and artistry involved. The WHOLE back-sideways-upside down story(ies) too. I think I’ll go re-read them now; thanks for reminding me!

        Reply
    • Joanne Renaud

      Oh, thank God someone said this before me. The costumes are rubbish, aren’t they? Especially that ruff thing.

      I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE Age of Bronze. Hottest. Agamemnon. Ever.

      Reply
  5. Jeff Faulk

    I watched this, mostly because I wasn’t interested in the Brad Pitt version and I had time to kill. While I was indifferent to the overall historic accuracy mostly due to low expectations, it was fairly obviously not trying for that as much as it was trying to capture the spirit of the period that Homer drew, and the drives and motivation of the characters. Along those lines, it suffered from a bit of lack of background– there’s not much setup for the Greek characters apart from Odysseus. We never learn for example that Agamemnon’s family has a historic curse upon their name, which explains why Agamemnon keeps getting screwed by the gods.

    We do miss out on some of the more epic stuff from the Iliad, such as Diomedes fighting the gods themselves on the battlefield. But as far as the gods went, I thought they were integrated to a reasonable degree– capable of influencing the mortals, but ultimately fate falls as it is destined to, aimed by the hubris and flaws of the mortals.

    There’s a certain degree of demythologizing going on as well. Achilles’ proverbial heel, for example, is never really brought up though he references his mother dipping him into the Styx. He appears to believe his mother is a goddess, but it’s never confirmed one way or another. A subplot about a Greek spy in Troy gives the Greeks something of an unfair advantage that they didn’t enjoy in the original, but then they weren’t trying to depict a 10-year siege!

    Overall, I enjoyed it more than I was expecting to. The production quality was pretty excellent, the costumes were reasonable if not very accurate, and the writing and acting were decent. Quite good for a TV miniseries about a mythological event in the end.

    Reply
  6. Kendra

    As I just saw this scene last night, AFTER writing this post, I am popping back in to say: THREESOME. Two guys and a girl! The guys get equal kissing time with each other as with the girl!

    Reply
  7. Rori

    I’m not all hook by the show. Personally I knew this show gonna be bad to my taste even before the trailer was out cause movies or shows based on mythology never tend to be good. Remember Gods of Egypt?

    The clothing look good in some parts (like the second photo where the women were wearing proper peplos, especially the girl on the right). But other than that, the loose hair and the random headdresses look so disjointed and random, and the exposed cleavages are obviously not accurate. It makes it clear that the producers were using generalized idea of Ancient Greek clothing.

    I know this is based on a mythology poem…but c’mon i want to see some accurate Ancient Greek clothing just for once! sobbing into the corner Can you think of any films or shows that sets in Ancient Greece does that?

    Oh, and just for interesting info i like to point out and share. Even though i liked that the show is more focusing on the female characters, the women were already interesting and pretty feminist in the The Iliad that the show is based on. In the Illiad, Helen regretted eloping with Paris and actually told Aphrodite to fuck off when Aphrodite insisted Helen should have sex with Paris again. The goddesses, particularly Athena and Hera, take up like 50% of the gods’ role in the war. And Euripides wrote the The Trojan Women where he fleshed out the female characters to be three-dimensional. Sorry i’m rambling, but it’s nice to see some female characters written very rounded, especially coming from Ancient Greeks.

    Reply
  8. spanielpatter14

    I was disappointed that the portrayal of Achilles was so much removed from the original version (in the Iliad). I’m not talking about the character’s skin color; it was his being so cold and (most of the time) controlled. Achilles in the Iliad was a spoiled brat who went crying to his mother to complain when Agamemnon took Briseis from him. And they messed up one of the most emotional scenes in all of classic (or any literature) when Priam came to ask Achilles to return Hector’s body (a scene, by the way, that was wonderfully done in the movie “Troy”, because Peter O’Toole owned it and Brad Pitt managed not to be annoying) – Priam’s plea that Achilles remember his own elderly father waiting for him is totally left out, which eliminates the emotional bond briefly forged between Priam and Achilles. In this production, Achilles seems to have contempt for his mother and never mentions his father…

    Reply
  9. Anna

    The dress on the black woman to the left in the second photo looks pre-raphaelite, like straight out of a Rosetti painting. I like the dress a lot, but it doesn’t make me think ancient Greece! However, it’s one of the periods I’m less knowledgeable about, compared to the Victorian era, so I’ll also become less annoyed by historically inaccurateness on screen. I feel for those who’s into this period’s dress, with all of the fantasy garments on screen!

    Reply
  10. Rosanna

    I have been putting off watching this, and the pictures here dont make me want to watch it either…. Yes, I get that its important to make a visual distinction between the clothing of two people, located so far apart from each other snd Mycenean dress might be a bit too saucy for a show that’ll be aired all over the world…. But why did they have to portray Greeks wearing so much white, when its the first thing you learn is a myth when researching ancient Greek dress (that kinda goes for Egyptian dress too btw)?! I do like some of the headdresses, although the designs look a bit chaotic. The goddesses look like (at least on these pictures) like the ran away from the set of Xena. All in all, I think they could’ve done better…

    Reply
  11. Lady Hermina De Pagan

    There is no reason for the Great Hair Pin shortage to effect the set. There is a wonderful youtube web series of instructional videos by Jean Stephens on ancient greek and Roman hairstyles. They show that most of the styles were sewn in place.
    Also not really feeling the Burning Man/Pennsic Bog dress/Tuchux costuming on the females.

    Reply
    • Smile Without a Cat

      I love Jean Stephens. Her videos are awesome!
      I think she does more Rome than Greece, but she probably could help them with Greece if asked (and paid, I would hope). Greek styles look simpler than the elaborate Roman constructions.
      Also, there is plenty of iconography available from ancient Greece, so there really is no reason for the costumes to look like… well, like they do. Although I kind of like the headdresses. As fantasy costume, not in any way resembling ancient Greece.

      Reply
  12. Destinee

    I’ve only watched a couple of episodes, but I’m wondering if the seemingly random body art on Aphrodite could be a tribute to her origin myth, wherein she was born from the seafoam created by Kronos’ genitalia (if memory serves) where it was tossed into the sea after his defeat?

    Reply
    • Alexander Baczewski

      Nah you thinking Poseidon when his gentalia was thrown to a lesser ocean goddess for sex. Not sure why, but gods will be gods I suppose, which would explain the blue markings on her and how it really does look more like swimmer wear(?).

      Reply
  13. Alexander Baczewski

    Funny enough, the fact that the Spartan women are wearing all or mostly white is accurate. Aside from certain shades of blue and brown, Spartan clothing was mainly white due to their more simplicity lifestyle.
    Casual everyday clothing would often be single colored or designed accordingly to status on outer garments then decorated with either sea glass, stones, or more commonly sea shells while reserving the more colorful clothing for ceremonies and grand events)

    Reply
  14. Roxana

    What’s with all the cowrie shells? In Ancient Egypt cowrie shells were symbolic of female genitalia which throws an interesting light on covering Helen with them.

    Reply

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