period: Helen of Troy

Helen of Troy

Helen of Troy, previously Helen of Sparta, was the daughter of Zeus and Leda the swan. Menelaus of Sparta, son of Atreus, won her hand against many competing suitors.

Some years later Paris, prince of Troy, came to Sparta seeking Helen, the goddess Aphrodite having promised Helen to Paris as a reward for choosing Aphrodite as the most beautiful of the goddesses (‘the Judgement of Paris’). Willingly or unwillingly, Helen returned with Paris to Troy; her abduction by Paris was the cause of the Trojan War.

According to The Odyssey, Helen returned to Sparta with Menelaus after the war. It was Christopher Marlowe who described Helen as having ‘the face that launched a thousand ships’.

The movies

Troy (2004): An overblown, over-long, would-be epic. The critics can be so cruel; Roger Ebert suggested that: ‘Homer’s estate should sue.’; Philip French wrote: ‘Well, the horse is great.’; Peter Travers described Diane Kruger’s Helen as ‘beautiful but bland’. Paul Engelen was the key makeup artist.

Helen of Troy (2003): I much preferred this mini-series to the following-year’s Troy – at least it included the gods and Sienna Guillory’s Helen had some character to go with the pretty face. Giancarlo Del Brocco was the key makeup artist.

Doctor Faustus (1967): Richard Burton looking for some more chemistry with Elizabeth Taylor but ending up in a self-indulgent mess. There are images of Elizabeth Taylor as the silver phantasm of Helen in the bodypainting section. Frank LaRue (aka Frank La Rue) was responsible for Elizabeth Taylor’s makeup; Agnes Flanagan did her hair.

Helen of Troy (1956): This movie was interesting for trying to tell the story from the Trojans’ point of view. But it was full of ‘character actors’ demonstrating their knowledge of The Art of Coarse Acting, amongst whom a ‘not noticeably talented Rossana Podesta’ struggled to leave any impression as Helen. Bill Phillips was makeup artist.