Reviewed by Glenn Erickson
Michael Cacoyannis was rather uneven in the overrated
Zorba the Greek and had a resounding
commercial no-show with his The Day the Fish Came Out, but this 1971 version of a play written
thousands of years ago is not at all bad. Euripides knew how to favor his actors, and unless this
is a reshuffled classic deck, The Trojan Women shapes up as a series of powerful
performances by its female stars. It's not the 'greatest anti-war film ever' as touted by some
spokespeople, but it does raise some cogent questions about wars and why they are fought - it's
an international civics lesson from 2,000 years ago.
Their men killed and their city burning, the women of Troy are to be taken back to
Greece as slaves. Queen Hecuba (Katharine Hepburn) tries to find a footing amidst her sorrow, as
one daughter is murdered and the other, the mad Cassandra (Geneviève Bujold) is taken away.
Hector's widow Andromache (Vanessa Redgrave) finds she will be the new wife of a king, but her
only son will be put to death. Finally, Menelaus (Patrick Magee) arrives to decide what to do
with Helen (Irene Papas) the Greek temptress that the Trojan women hold responsible for all the
carnage and suffering, and the loss of their empire.
The Trojan Women makes good drama out of the aftermath of war, where it's discovered that
pride, plunder and personal ambition were the factors that launched a thousand Greek ships, not the
face of Helen, who is neither a kidnap victim nor an innocent. But we don't see any of this from
the Greek point of view. Of the big names, only Menelaus is seen, a cuckolded husband unsure of
his recaptured wife. Euripides' play busies itself to consider the fates of the
royal women of Troy at the hands of the Greek conquerors.
Back then, war was a game exclusively for winners. After ten years of bitter siege and traumatic
losses on both sides - the most glorious warriors of both Troy and Greece have been slain - the
defeated are either put to death or transported back to Greece as slaves. Troy is to be burned to
the ground, eradicated. Their is no talk of bringing freedom to Troy.
The play begins with Queen Hecuba lifting herself from the ground where she's been agonizing over
the defeat and the death of her husband, the king. News arrives that one daughter has been slain, and
from time to time a Greek messenger (Brian Blessed) brings more bad news, each piece worse than the last.
The Greeks have loaded their ships with gold and are almost ready to take on their human cargo.
Hecuba is the matriarch, and she witnesses what happens to three important Trojan women. Her surviving
daughter Cassandra, the madwomen, needs constant attention. She drifts off into odd reveries that
sound like prophecy, or, in the case of the Greeks, provocative defiance. Geneviève Bujold
plays her very interestingly, as a woman who knows very well that she's insane. She some control over
herself, but no control over the wanderings of her mind. She's rounded up and taken away.
The highest-born women are slated as wives for Greek royalty, or in the case of Hecuba, to be a lowly
servant to a king. The noble widow of Hector, Andromache is a true innocent totally lacking a desire
for vengeance for her fallen husband, whose armor she carries around on a chariot. The Greeks are too
cowardly to confront their new charges in person; they send the messenger to inform Andromache that
not only will she be wed to a Greek, but that her beautiful young son by Hector must die, to insure
that his bloodline will be ended.
Hecuba can't really advise Cassandra but she tries to give Andromache courage to make a new life and
find a new home, to have more children if she can, even if they're Greek children. As you can imagine,
with actresses this accomplished, we soon forget about the formality of the dialogue and are swept
up by the human problems created by war.
The last woman to be considered is Helen, who is portrayed rather differently than the Helens of
large-scale epics. Irene Papas' temptress is an unregenerate, selfish egotist and has no particular
feeling toward the fall of Troy or the death of Paris. She's convinced that Menelaus will take her
back. The crowds of captive females boo and curse her, but thanks to Hecuba's intervention, Menelaus
doesn't take Helen's promises of fidelity at face value. Yet as she's led off, we have a hard time
believing that she won't be pardoned before she gets back to Greece.
Hecuba is the one that has to carry the weight of her fallen city, as the Greeks set it ablaze and the
captive women are marched to the waiting ships. Katherine Hepburn's speeches make us feel ready to
see more classic Greek theater, even tragedies like this one.
Director Cacoyannis uses ancient ruins to represent the breached walls
of Troy, and it works quite well. We never see giant armies or armadas of ships, yet there are
enough extras and trappings to convince us that this is the aftermath of a bloody siege. All of the
action is shot out in the elements, and it can't have been comfortable for the actresses to stand in
the stark sun all day. With little opportunity for attractive lighting, the photography under these
conditions is quite good. The most conspicuous aspect of the production are the excellent costumes,
which are as credible and lived-in as those in one of Pasolini's period film.
Kino Video's DVD of The Trojan Women is a full-frame transfer of a show that looks comfortable at
that ratio - I don't think widescreen cropping would do it any favors. The source element has subdued
color and isn't in perfect shape but it's more than acceptable. The original English soundtrack is
clear, which is a good thing because there is no subtitle track. Mikis Theodorakis' music is more
mood-setting than arresting, but his style is immediately recognizable.
There's a trailer, some stills, a note from director Cacoyannis and a text filmography for him.
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
The Trojan Women rates:
Movie: Very Good
Supplements: Trailer, stills, text bios
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: October 13, 2004
DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2004 Glenn Erickson
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