8 October 2013

Letter to the BBC: hands off Ancient Greece!

Where I belongs, reader
Dear BBC - specifically to those in Drama Development,

I had not really been aware of your latest drama that occupies the Saturday primetime spot, Atlantis. Despite the show's content being Ancient Greece, it had not really registered. I happened upon the opening episode when it aired last week.

I am sorry to say that disappointment doesn't really adequately describe the feeling attributed to watching this show. My emotional arc can be summed up thus: eager anticipation, bemusement and then outrage.

Yes, outrage, which might seem a little of an overreaction to fiction. But here is my issue or gripe, as it were: Ancient Greek history and mythology (any mythology, for that matter) is a trove of immense storytelling. Most of it is nuts and that's why it's so enjoyable. But I believe BBC, you have handled this material with little regard and decency. It was so, so poor and I do not think it unreasonable to expect a little more from your institution. Though perhaps this is my error - I should not expect so much, I should resign myself to the fact that a whole load of nonsense comes out of your shows. However, that's not entirely true - you've got Sherlock, among other fine dramas. I understand Saturday evening is a 'fun time' slot and has been inhabited by equally silly but somewhat 'fun' shows like Robin Hood and Merlin.

I just don't understand the need to do away with a little authenticity in favour of cheap thrills. It's one thing to have poor writing and poor acting, quite another to trample over quality source material. Mythology and Ancient Greek is a bit of fun but can we at least get some simple details right, so that young people (any people) are at least educated a wee bit as well? Alas, I did not watch the entirety of the show - after 15 minutes or so, I was crying out at the TV screen, which is never good for one's blood pressure, so to ease it, I switched off. I quite literally cannot judge the rest of the episode but I can say that watching that much alone has induced quite a reaction in me.

I am not going to mention the predominant Anglo-Saxon ethnicity of the casting - Robin Hood and Merlin were authentic in that sense but are we still stuck in the 1960s? There are no shortage of talent you could employ. Instead, for reasons I know not why, Mark Addy, the kind of portly man who you'd have a pint with, seems to get noble and warrior-like roles, such as King Robert in Games of Thrones. Here, you have him as Hercules, despite his utter lack of warrior-ness. Bemusing. Worse still, he's got a Roman name. Is it so immensely difficult to have him referred to as 'Heracles', as that is Greek after all. And let's get one thing sorted right away - Heracles would not, WOULD NOT, be afraid of the Minotaur. That is woefully poor on the writer's part, woefully. It would have worked if the Heracles in question was in fact a young man, as yet to take part in his trials and so was not a schooled warrior.

WHAT THE HAY?! moment:
Wait, what? This guy is the infamous Hercules?!! But he's scared of the Minotaur...*SIGH*
That brings me to the depiction of 'the oracle'. There was little or no mysticism around this ridiculous character. An oracle is not a person but rather the person - woman rather - is a vessel for the oracle. She is also not someone who just answers random questions. As such, the writers leeched any real suspense (or coolness) around that scene where the protag visits her.

Of course, these are by the by, one could argue. I would argue it just comes off as embarrassing. I would also state that the reason I get so irate watching something on this subject is because I know that I would have created something of better quality. I do not believe I am coming from an arrogant, deluded position here; I absolutely adore Ancient Greece and her mythology and I am dying and so unbelievably keen to get my hands on something that I can then work with and bring to life (of course, I am writing my own material that will adequately reflect what I mean). I don't get overly excited about much but if anyone comes to me and mentions Ancient Greece, I'm there with bells on.

I can also tell you, there is nothing mutually exclusive about being true to their culture and stories AND being fresh and bringing something exciting to the audience. We've got it in our heads that people won't like it if it sticks too much to a traditional approach. You can be as creative and mad with a story that still holds true to the original setting or tales that come from that story (Scott's Gladiator is a fab example). In fact, that is the only way you can add true value, true meaning to a new telling. I could in fact forgive more if it was a modern adaptation/set in a more modern era. But if you are going to set it in Ancient Greece, goodness, do justice to that at least! Or step aside and let those who will do it worthily.

Lastly Ancient Greece is the home to drama, the kind of drama that we love and still sustains us. There is no end to the ridiculous high stakes situations and scenarios that run through their tales. So it's still mind boggling and immensely frustrating that anyone/group of people can fail to do it right, when it's already there - very richly so!

I highly doubt you'll care much that lil' ole me is not going to be a viewer of Atlantis. But if you'd done it even a little decently, you would have had an AVID viewer and advocate. Now, I'll just seek comfort in the saying, 'If you don't like the way it's done, see if you can do it better.' I shall sirs and madams, I shall indeed.

No comments:

Post a Comment