Deborah Ross thinks Troy is nothing new

Troy: Fall Of A City

Saturday, BBC1 


Hold The Sunset

Sunday, BBC1 



Tuesday, BBC2 


The first imperative with Troy: Fall Of A City – for those new to the myths, how clever of the title to contain its own spoiler! – was to sort out which beard belonged to whom, given the abundance of similar-looking hunky men sporting them. And two episodes in, I confess I’m still at it, and still asking: is this the beard that is Paris? Is this the beard that is Hector? Is this the beard that is Menelaus? Is this the beard that is Agamemnon? Thank heavens for King Priam (David Threlfall), who has a white beard/black moustache combo on the go so he, at least, makes it easy. But who is that with King Priam? Is it the beard that is Odysseus? Or is it the beard that is Xanthius? A beard ’mare, in other words. 

The beards that are Priam (David Threlfall) and Paris (Louis Hunter) with Helen (Bella Dayne) in Troy: Fall Of A City

The beards that are Priam (David Threlfall) and Paris (Louis Hunter) with Helen (Bella Dayne) in Troy: Fall Of A City

Written by David Farr, who adapted The Night Manager, it’s the latest attempt to capture the Game Of Thrones audience, as was Sky’s Britannia, which was bad but bonkers, and never as earnest. This has sex and boobs and throats being slashed, but it feels as if it’s all been bolted on to a Merlin or The Three Musketeers, or any other drama that’s not fully aimed at adults. True, the landscapes are beautiful, yet maybe it is all too beautiful? When the Greek soldiers went on the move they could well have been glamping. I honestly kept expecting them to draw straws to see who would go to the local Spar for more sausages. Or Waitrose. I’ve never been glamping, but maybe the sites are always near a Waitrose? Rather than a Spar? 

It is all standard emotions and acting so wooden that if you gathered it all up you could surely make your own Trojan horse. Plus the dialogue is a cliché fest. ‘I am a woman, not a possession,’ poor Helen (Bella Dayne) even had to say. And when the beard that is Paris first sat down with the beard that is Menelaus (I think it was those beards) over a dinner, also attended by Helen, and the beard that is Paris asked, ‘So, how did you two meet?’, I actually erupted with laughter. 

On another occasion, three beards were discussing something as the Greek army trotted past in the background, and as they trotted in the manner of John Cleese on his pretend horse in Monty Python And The Holy Grail that set me off too. Perhaps they couldn’t agree who would go to the local Spar (or Waitrose) for the  sausages, so decided to faux-trot there together? Quicker to faux-trot than to march? 

But most essentially, you do have to believe in the attraction between the beard that is Paris and Helen (no beard yet; wait till you hit the menopause, love). You do have to believe it is so strong that even though they both know it is going to result in a war, there is just no fighting it. Yet there is not a squeak of sexual chemistry between the two. Not a hint, not a trace, not a whisper. So when they finally made it into bed together, it was about as erotic as, say, watching the dog hump a chair leg. By the way, the Greeks win. But I’m not the first to tell you that. 

Talking of John Cleese, he has made his return to sitcom with Hold The Sunset, which fills the older-demographic, early-Sunday-evening slot as once occupied by, for example, As Time Goes By, although in this instance time went by rather excruciatingly. It offers a brilliant cast (Alison Steadman and Jason Watkins co-star) but even they cannot save it. It’s your classic old-school sitcom set-up. Phil (Cleese) wants to marry his neighbour Edith (Steadman) and finally she relents (yay!), but then the doorbell rings, ding-dong, and it’s Edith’s fiftysomething man-child of a son (Watkins), who has left his wife and has come back to live with mum (boo!). 

Broad strokes is one thing but this was extraordinarily humourless right from the off, opening with Phil scolding a neighbour for allowing his dog to pee on a tree. As Phil was not then established as a grumpy old fella in the manner of Richard Wilson’s Victor Meldrew, what was the point? And it was peculiarly directed. Why all those cutaways to boats and trains? There was only one ‘joke’, which involved Watkins clambering through a window and getting stuck. Seriously, the Greek army faux-trotting is far funnier (episode two, 14 minutes and 30 seconds in). 

But all is not lost because… MUM IS BACK FOR A SECOND SERIES! And it’s as glorious as ever, just as Lesley Manville is as glorious as ever and, most gloriously, it’s a sitcom that understands if you get the situation and characters right, you don’t need ‘jokes’. And now I’ve run out of space, so I’ll come back to it next week. It was either that or come back to Sunset, in which case I’d have to watch a second episode and well, you know…