She is 'the face that launched a thousand ships'; the woman blamed for the Trojan War - a conflict that caused countless deaths - but who was the real Helen of Troy?
Bettany Hughes travels across the eastern Mediterranean to disentangle myth from reality and find the truth about the most beautiful woman on earth.
Helen's story is a dark and very human drama, interweaving pleasure and pain, sex and violence, love and hate: a tale that started with a messy love affair and ended with a bloody and disastrous conflict.
Hughes argues that many images of the mythic Helen, from Hollywood movies to romantic paintings, have got her all wrong: Helen was the original sex goddess. And the film reveals just how a pre-historic princess in Bronze Age Greece - a real Helen - would have looked.
The feature-length documentary takes in some of the most beautiful scenery of the ancient world, from the magnificent citadel at Mycenae and the spectacular shrine to Helen in Sparta, to the archaeological site in modern Turkey that will be forever linked with the war fought in Helen's name: Troy.
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Bettany spoke to Professor Michael Trapp at King's College London at a pre-performance discussion of Euripides' Heleni n February 2011.
"…a lavish profile. A distinct personality does emerge from Hughes’ essay and travelogue…Two precious hours on a Saturday night is asking a lot of viewers, but Hughes is intelligent and attractive company – and she brings her subject to life in locations in Greece and Turkey. With television history presentation dominated by men, it is refreshing to see Hughes firmly planting a banner for the distaff side. She brings a feminine as well as a scholarly eye to bear on a rich subject."
Pick of the Day – The Sunday Times – 30/10/05
"The eloquent and eminently watchable historian Bettany Hughes…brings history to life in a gripping Late Bronze Age tale of sex and violence."
Must-See TV –Mail on Sunday 16/10/05
"Long may she reign: Bettany Hughes is that rare mix of a classical scholar and attractive presenting head. This is more interesting than 99 per cent of the programmes on television."
The Times 22/10/05
"Pulchritudinous historian Bettany Hughes sets out to discover the truth about the most beauteous women ever to have walked the earth."
Pick of the Day – The Daily Mail 22/11/05
Watch This – The Guardian – 22/11/05
"TV historian Bettany Hughes warms to her subject in this feature-length documentary. Hughes is far from saying that the notorious sex goddess actually lived but, if she had done, the ‘real’ Helen would have operated in a warrior culture where high-born women wielded considerable power."
Pick of the Day – The Daily Telegraph – 22/10/05
"Just who was Helen? The historian Bettany Hughes is well-placed to provide answers to that question: she has just written a book about Helen. For the purposes of this documentary, she undertakes a trip around the Eastern Mediterranean, from the splendiferous citadel of Mycenae to the majestic shrine of Helen at Sparta in an attempt to separate fact from fiction"
Pick of the Day – The Independent – 22/10/05
"A world of abandonment, fuelled by narcotics.’ Channel 4’s programme about ‘the face that launched a thousand ships’ turned out to have a surprising amount in common with Girls and Boys – Sex and British Pop. Charisma among other things. Bettany Hughes, the ancient historian with whom men would most like to share a Hittite burial site, had explained that kharis (favour or grace) had a strong erotic component. It was really rather good."
OLD HISTORY IS FOR THE YOUNG – headline review The Independent 24/11/05
"Academic Bettany Hughes sifts through the facts, visiting archaeological sites that provide clues about the real-life face that launched a thousand ships. An insight into the life of a real Greek goddess."
The Pick of the Day - The Sunday Express – 16/10/05
"…Hughes does establish that the male dominated culture of the Greek and Roman eras was probably preceded by a society in which a dominant, powerful queen could exist and pass into legend."
Critics Choice – Financial Times – 22/10/05
"Hughes explains why Hollywood’s depiction of Helen is a long way from what the historian believes to be the earthier truth"
Critics Choice - The Independent on Sunday 16/11/05
"The First Sex Goddess –Bettany Hughes in pursuit of Helen of Troy."
The Times Review Cover story - 2nd October 2005
"Watch Out for Helen of Troy"
Critics Guide - TV Times 21/10/05
"All very interesting"
The Sunday Telegraph - Television Choice – 16/20/05