WCW: Helen of Troy

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The face that launched a thousand ships, the most beautiful woman in ancient Greece … what should Helen of Troy look (and dress) like? Let’s take a look at her portrayals on the silver screen!

 

Helen of Troy (1924)

A German silent film, with Italian actress Edy Darclea as Helen.

1924 Helen of Troy

Lots of pretty gold!

1924 Helen of Troy

Note the perfect hand placement…

 

The Private Life of Helen of Troy (1927)

Another silent, this one an American production. Hungarian actress María Corda took the title role.

1927 The Private Life of Helen of Troy

That wig is totally 1920s, at least in the fact that it’s made of silver material … but it’s AMAZEBALLS.

1927 The Private Life of Helen of Troy

I guess Helen has a cross-dressing attendant?

 

Helen of Troy (1956)

A big Hollywood production, with Libyan-Italian actress Rossana Podestà as Helen.

1956 Helen of Troy

Pointy boobs alert!

 

The Trojan Horse (1961)

An Italian B-movie, starring Italian actress Edy Vessel.

1961 The Trojan Horse

Apparently I missed the part where Homer talked about winged eyeliner?

1961 The Trojan Horse

There’s no girdle under there, oh no!

 

The Lion of Thebes (1964)

An Italian/French production, with French actress Yvonne Furneaux as Helen.

1964 The Lion of Thebes

Just, wow.

 

Doctor Faustus (1967)

A British adaptation of the 16th century Christopher Marlowe play, in which the title character bargains with the devil for his soul. LIZ TAYLOR plays Faustus’ love interest, who apparently shows up periodically throughout the story; according to Rotten Tomatoes, “The Devil tempts Faust at every turn by confronting him with the seven deadly sins and Helen of Troy (Elizabeth Taylor), who appears throughout the film in various stages of undress as Doctor Faustus stands firm.”

1967 Doctor Faustus

She’s Liz Taylor!

1967 Doctor Faustus

She didn’t do anything by halves!

 

The Trojan Women (1971)

An adaptation of a classical era tragedy by Euripides, which tells the story of the aftermath of the Trojan War by focusing on the fate of the various female characters. It’s very sympathetic to the Trojan side; Irene Papas (an actual Greek woman!! You know her as Catherine of Aragon in Anne of the Thousand Days) plays Helen as a seductress who is responsible for all this suffering, unlike most productions that make her sympathetic.

1971 The Trojan Women

I love that they cast an actual Greek woman (yes, I’m ignoring the many American/British actresses in other lead roles).

1971 The Trojan Women

Nice jewelry, even if otherwise the dress is a big sack…

 

Helen of Troy (2003)

A TV miniseries (with Rufus Sewell as Agamemnon!). Helen is played by Sienna Guillory (The BuccaneersThe Virgin Queen).

2003 Helen of Troy

Did Homer WRITE Helen as blonde?

2003 Helen of Troy

BANGS. But I do like the sari fabric!

 

Troy (2004)

A big budget Hollywood film with Brad Pitt, Orlando Bloom, and Eric Bana. Diane Kruger (Copying BeethovenInglorious BasterdsFarewell, My Queen) is Helen.

2004 troy

I do love an artful wave!

2004 troy

ALL the bling! It’s VERY sari tho.

 

Troy: Fall of a City (2018)

A British/American TV miniseries, recently available on Netflix. Bella Dayne (The Man in the High Castle) takes on Helen.

2018 Troy Fall of a City

This whole ruff with beads thing was interesting — I’m not sure if I love it, but it’s certainly different than your typical Helen look.

2018 Troy Fall of a City

Helen dressing in the Trojan style. Nice headdress!

 

Alright, who best captures your idea of the “real” Helen of Troy?

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Kendra

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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.

28 Responses

  1. Jen

    Not a movie, but Helen of Troy appeared in a few episodes of DCs Legends of Tomorrow; she ended up being taken to Themiscyra to live out her days along with Wonder Woman’s mother. She’s blonde in this version to and wears Amazonian armour in her most recent appearance there.

    Reply
  2. Bea

    LOL Helen in The Trojan Women (1971) is wearing Sumerian funeral jewelry.
    It’s Pu’abi tomb jewelry, from the excavations at Ur. From about 2600BCE.

    Reply
    • M.E. Lawrence

      Irene all the way! As I recall, Pappas is very sultry in the role, without losing her dignity, and the seductiveness is her survival method. I don’t even mind the baggy dress–I mean, if you were married to the most beautiful woman in the world, would you let her outside in some of the outfits pictured above?.And, Bea, thanks for the information about the Sumerian jewelry.

      By the way, Pappas is 91 these days, and she is 5’10”–no wonder I like her.

      Reply
  3. M.D.

    All of them look ridiculous and none of them looks particularly historically accurate. Not with the pale skin and especially not with the blonde hair and blue eyes.

    Reply
    • Al Don

      Homer did describe Achilles as having “honey” colored locks of hair and Menelaus also has fair/ruddy complexion. So Homer recognized there was/is a range of complexions and hair colors along the Aegean.

      Unless my translation missed it, he doesn’t explicitly describe Helen, except to comment on her general beauty. She’s actually far more in the background than the martial characters. So it’s really up to your imagination. Whatever the conventions of the day hold as “the most beautiful”, there you go.

      Reply
      • M.D.

        The Trojan War was before the Dorian Invasion. If you’re talking about a variety of complexions AFTER the Dorian Invasion, I might be inclined to agree with you. Beforehand is highly unlikely. As for what “Homer” said (or the multitude of people orally passing on myths that we call “Homer” today), well it wouldn’t be the first time that ancient texts were “mistranslated” or ancient history was altered to fit an Orientalist/Philhellenist narrative. A lot of these ancient texts were translated in the last couple of hundred years, so if a recent “translation” or scholarly “interpretation” strains credulity – like a range of complexions around the Aegean BEFORE the Dorian Invasion – then I view them with a gimlet eye. Romanticism, Orientalism, and Philhellenism have been behind much of the recent “interpretations” of the study of ancient human history, particularly when it comes to Ancient Greece. I think that needs to be acknowledged.

        Reply
    • Rori

      I believed Homer did described Helen as blonde in the Odyssey. That’s pretty much the only trait we have of her as the “conventional” ideal Ancient Greek beauty.

      Reply
      • Al Don

        Honestly, I must have missed that. There’s an offhand reference to her being “fair” in the Iliad but that can cover a lot. Now in Euripides’ Helen and Iphigenia in Aulis, Helen is portrayed as “golden haired” but let’s be honest: modern story-tellers don’t really use that as their source. Actually I’m sure plenty aren’t even aware of those sources…

        She was also described as having… how to put it… a disarmingly nice bosom. The sight of those diffused Menelaus’ wrath.

        Reply
        • egizzius

          I don’t remember Homer describing her as blond (but I might remember wrongly this one); on the other hand, if I remember rightly the spartan poet Alcman – in his Partheneia, or “Maiden songs” (7th century bCE), praised the beauty of Spartan female athletes, with their “golden hair” and “violet eyes.” Nothing strictly related to Helen, but even not so uncommon … so I see not big mistakes, portraing her as blonde, I can give the chance of an interpretation.

          Reply
      • M.D.

        Is that really the ONLY trait we have describing Helen in “Homer’s” stories? Really? Who translated the versions of Iliad and the Oddessy calling her blonde? Anyway, the Trojan War was BEFORE the Dorian Invasion, so it just strains credulity. I fully explicated all of this in my previous reply to Al Don and I invite you to read it. I think when we discuss Ancient Greece, and pretty much any ancient history, it behooves us to remember and think about the fact that during the time many of these ancient works were being “discovered” that Philhellnism and Orientalism were huge trends amongst quite a few of the people living in Northwestern Europe (and still are) and to view the translations and “scholarly interpretations” with critical analysis. Thanks.

        Reply
  4. Andrew.

    Well, considering the Helen was hatched from an egg, (along with her sister Clytemnestra, and brothers Castor and Pollux), after their mother, Leda, had it away with a swan/Zeus, perhaps Anna Chancellor should be considered?

    Reply
  5. Charity

    I always wonder at the ego involved for the actress when they get a casting call that amounts to “Wanted: woman to play the most beautiful woman of all time, the face that launched a thousand ships!” How many of them smile at their reflection and go, “Yeah, that’s me!”?

    A lot of the Helens thus far haven’t really made me go “WOW,” but it’s all down to personal taste, I guess…

    Reply
  6. Claire McMaster

    I am loving all the Troy ladies costumes in the new mini series (its on Netflix if you are in Australia). No idea about historically accuracy but the headdresses and the bead jewelry do give a different feel to the Greek individuals.

    Reply
  7. Kaite

    The costuming on Troy: The Fall of a City is fantasy, but its pretty fantasy. What is interesting is how, although there are plenty of things that aren’t in the Illiad, they aren’t avoiding the weird and wonderful supernatural stuff. Including the gods showing up on the battlefield to help out their favorites, y’know, as you do. Its a nice change from all of the “real history” adaptations that bear only the smallest resemblance to the source material.

    Reply
  8. MrsC

    I LOVE the 1971 sack! With that short haircut, I just love the whole look. It’s powerful and sexy not kittenish. I’d rock that sack any day but I think I’d look like Demis Roussos in it, alas!

    Reply
  9. egizzius

    I feel the last Helen by Bella Dayne (Troy, fall of a city) might be the right balance among beauty, attire, personality and so on about we suppose the mythological Helen could be.

    Reply
  10. Pina

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but the Trojans aren’t exactly Greek either, are they? They’re a different tribe than the Achaeans, who are supposed to be the ancestors of the Greek audience Homer was addressing. That’s kind of an important point in the tradition, since the stories are meant to exalt the glory of the victorious ancestors of the Greeks. (This doesn’t change the fact that probably neither side had the modern Nordic look of course.)

    Reply
  11. hsc

    In addition to “The Trojan Women,” Irene Papas did two other classical adaptations with director Michael Cacoyannis: “Electra” (1962), where she played the title role, and “Iphigenia” (1977), as Clytemnestra. She was also in Cacoyannis’ hit “Zorba the Greek” (1964).

    In 1968, Papas starred as Penelope in “The Odyssey, “an 8-part Italian miniseries that got edited from 446 minutes down to 110 minutes as a feature for U.S. distribution. Scilla Gabel is listed as having played Helen, but I don’t think she made the cut, nor did Peter “Rocky Horror” Hinwood, who allegedly played Hermes.

    Unfortunately, I don’t think a complete version of this exists, though the edited version once ran on CBS in 1978, which I saw.

    Reply
    • egizzius

      I can’t put here some (small) pictures of Scilla Gabel playing Helen in the Italian Odissea 1968; I watched the series when I was almost 9 y.o. and I was totally fascinated!

      Reply
  12. Gillian Stapleton

    I really loved Sienna Guillory’s portrayal of Helen. It was explicitly stated that what made Helen irresistible wasn’t just her looks but the semi-divine charisma she inherited from Zeus – and in this version, it’s a gift that she really doesn’t like or want.

    Reply
  13. opusanglicanum

    appears throughout the film in various stages of undress as Doctor Faustus stands firm.”

    erm…nice double entendre

    I seem to rememeber that there are some inferences that helen had golden hair – it was much admired by the greeks. I can’t rememebr if it’s actaully in homer or some of the otehr calssical references though

    Reply
  14. Roxana

    Golden hair and blue eyes were much admired in Classical Greece so it’s likely that ‘the most beautiful woman in the world’ would be made a blond by later mythologizers. There is no reason to believe there was a ‘real’ Helen of Troy but Minoan and Mycenaean woman are depicted as fair skinned with masses of black ringlets.

    Reply

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