A modern-day Atlantis

Caravaggio / Head of Medusa / c.1598

Have you ever imagined a romantic relationship between Medusa and Hercules? What if it was a pre-curse Medusa, before her hair was turned to snakes and her face could turn any man or woman to stone? And what if Hercules was, er, past his best and he had put on a few pounds and spent a little too much time at the pub? Congratulations, you’ve just imagined Atlantis, the latest family-oriented Saturday evening drama on the BBC that’s nearing the conclusion of its first series at the moment.

When I was younger I was obsessed with Greek, Roman and Egyptian mythology and every Christmas and birthday I always received at least one new encyclopaedia of ancient mythology as a gift. I pored over them endlessly, memorising the family trees and comparing and contrasting Greek deities and their Roman equivalents. When I started working at akg-images, that knowledge of gods and goddesses proved to be very useful, but as a young boy I think I drove my parents to distraction. Long car journeys were filled with me spouting random facts and asking questions I knew they couldn’t answer (“Can you name all of the Greek muses and the particular arts and sciences that each one represents? No? Well, let me tell you…).

Pytharoras / from: H. Göll / 1876

The young me would have been appalled by the liberties taken by the BBC in developing Atlantis but the 2013 me really enjoys the pick-and-mix attitude they have taken with Greek mythology, choosing the best bits of various legends and then throwing in whatever takes their fancy, adding for example the decidedly non-mythological Pythagoras who “likes triangles”. Disappointingly Pythagoras hasn’t done that much actual mathematics in the series, as he’s been too busy cultivating bromances with his housemates Hercules and Jason.

Jason is, in fact, from “our world”, having woken up in Atlantis after a submarine accident. To his credit, Jason has taken his situation quite calmly and mostly seems to have forgotten all the Greek myths and legends. He also seems to forget his shirt more often than not which possibly explains the bromance with Pythagoras…

There’s also a strong female cast, with Juliet Stevenson as the Oracle and Sarah Parrish as a fantastically campy Pasiphaë (think Alexis Colby wearing a chiton), as well as a really warm performance from Jemima Rooper as Medusa. I was genuinely surprised when (spoiler alert) Medusa opened Pandora’s Box last week (no, really) and promptly sprouted her vipers. With Daedalus appearing in the next episode and a second run of episodes already commissioned, I am looking forward to seeing if Jason can reverse the curse or if he’ll have to slay the Gorgon. Shirtless, naturally…

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