Review: Myths 1×1

Modern day Greek myths in five minutes

In the UK: Saturdays, 12.45pm, BBC2

Once the Beeb gets an idea into its head, it’s very hard to shift it. Case in point: ever since Canterbury Tales, it’s been impossible for the Beeb to dramatise any pre-17th Century piece of literature as anything other than a modernisation, with characters in equivalent 21st century roles rather than in the roles as written.

We’ve seen it have a go at Shakespeare, the Brothers Grim’s fairy tales* and now Ridley Scott’s production company is trying to introduce modern youth to classic Greek myths in handy five-minute nuggets. Suffice it to say, although Myths is fun, a little is lost in the translation…

Is it any good?
Well, in and of itself, Paris and the Godesses is a reasonable enough retelling in modern, youth terms of Eris’ golden apple wedding beauty competition. Wet old Paris (played by the kid who plays Luke on The Sarah Jane Adventures) fancies Helen. He’s at the party of the year, run by Zeus, who has three girls after him: Athene, Aphrodite and Hera, but he can’t decide between them so gets Paris to decide for him. To sway his decision, Hera offers him £100, Athene offers him the wisdom necessary to get girls like her, while Aphrodite offers him a good word with sis Helen. Paris picks Aphrodite and the introduction is made. The End.

Those familiar with the myths will instantly spot all sorts of problems here, mainly to do with who does what and the relationships between the characters; there’s also the fact this leaves this particular myth with a happy ending, where once it ended with the Trojan War, Paris getting killed and The Odyssey. But on its own terms, it was enjoyable enough and quite fun, even if it did seem to mystify the BBC Switch presenters.

Since this is youth TV, where 360° commissioning is all the rage, there’s a matching web site where you can watch the episodes on the iPlayer and find out more about the characters and the myths. I assumed that would be where a rich cornucia of educational material would come into play, but no. I was wrong.

While you do get the original myth** to compare and contrast the TV version with, the site’s still a bit sketchy on the details: the description of the myth ends with

"We’d like to say they lived happily ever after, but that would be a lie… ever heard of the face that launched a thousand ships?"

Erm, probably not, otherwise there’s be no point doing this, unless they happen to be big fans of Christopher Marlowe instead. And the character run-downs? Fake trading cards – Paris: Strength 10, Darkness 5, Love 92, which given his propensity for shooting people in the heel with poisoned arrows, stealing other men’s wives when he’s a guest in their home, then hiding behind his brothers when trouble starts, seems a little low on the Darkness rating.

Obviously no substitute for, you know, actually reading something (I’d recommend Bettany Hughes’ Helen of Troy  for this one), but fun enough and at five minutes, the episodes should keep the attention of even the most fickle of kids, although many might expect some kind of context or a second episode showing what happens next. Who knows, though? The wee tinkers’ curiousity might get aroused and they might even learn something off the Interweb for a change.

Still to come: Escape from the Underworld, The Love of Narcissus, Eye of the Cyclops, The Fall of Icarus and The Syrens Call.

Incidentally, lots of Greek myths floating around on youth channels this weekend. E4 was showing the two-part Hercules*** mini-series with Timothy Dalton (not as Hercules, mind). What’s up there?

* Yes, I know they’re not pre-17th century, but the originals were
** Or one of the versions of it, anyway
*** Yes, I know it should be Heracles

  • Well, news about this won’t make somebody very happy. Not the same story, but still….

  • “Well, news about this won’t make somebody very happy.”
    If you mean me, not to worry, I think this one is a long way from treading on my toes…

  • I loved The Canterbury Tales (first time I realised Billie Piper could act was watching her in The Miller’s Tale) and the Shakespeare Retold is a fabulous way of introducing kids to Shakespeare. I particularly love the Midsummer Night’s Dream one which has an impish Puck, a sense of magic, and a great love story, but Damian Lewis and wosterface in the Much Ado about Nothing one were also brilliant. I’ve got them all on DVD and the kids love them. So. Will probably give the myths thing a try. At least someone is trying to get them interested (it’s quite hard work at school I can tell you) – though a happy ending for Paris and Helen? Sounds a bit Victorian actors rewriting Shakespeare to me. Still, it can’t be worse then the travesty that is the Disney film Hercules (even though I do enjoy that for what it is, it annoys the hell out of me that they made so much of it up.) Funnily enough I have two of them off school doing homework on the Greek and Roman gods today – I can tell them to watch out for this!