Byline: KATE O'TOOLE
A tall wooden structure has been erected inside the imposing palace square of the ancient city of Troy. It is a massive funeral pyre for King Priam's son, Hector, who has been slain in a bloody duel with the Greek warrior, Achilles, and then dragged around the besieged walls as a final insult. Surrounding the pyre are 1,000 Trojan soldiers in full mourning for Troy's favourite son, serried ranks of perfectly well-behaved and motionless horses in funereal uniforms and a full complement of Trojan noblemen and women. There are Hector's widow, Andromache (Saffron Burrows), Hector's brother, Paris (Orlando Bloom), and, of course, Helen of Troy (Diane Kruger), who caused all the trouble in the first place when she ran off with Paris, prompting the Greeks to mount a war to win her back for her cuckolded husband, Menelaus, King of Sparta. Finally, King Priam prepares to climb to the top of the tower, to set his torch to the corpse of his beloved son.
It is summer 2003, and I am standing in the middle-of all this, hidden behind a large pillar on a massive film set, which has been lovingly constructed to recreate the city of Troy, eating a hot dog from the catering truck and chatting sotto voce to members of the Maltese fire brigade, who are there to assist should things get out of hand in the pyrotechnics department.
Despite the vast numbers of people, animals and machinery assembled, the discipline is impressive, and the absolute silence manages to create a powerful atmosphere of deepest sorrow.
As the cameras roll and the king, played by my father, Peter O'Toole, begins his terrible, tragic ascent, a chorus of keening women sings out, the strong voices surging up and filling not just the palace square but the entire ten-acre set. The effect is visceral, tears prick my eyes and the hot dog lodges in my throat.
I had flown to Malta to visit my father on the Troy set at Fort Ricasoli, where Gladiator was also filmed. His schedule allowed for a few days off after shooting Hector's funeral scene, and we decided that we would explore the island together during his short break.
This is no ordinary film. It is full-tilt adventure - swords, sandals and attractive young men running about in miniskirts. It is the kind of thing we all thought was extinct until Russell Crowe and his legs revived the genre in Gladiator.
Homer's The Iliad, on which Troy is based, is the most potent blend of fact and myth ever written.
It is Western literature's first, and arguably greatest, tragedy, and its transformation into a big-screen epic is happening on the biggest film set in Europe, possibly the world.
Earthly warriors are helped, or hindered, in their endeavours by the gods who take sides as the Greeks lay siege to Troy, located in what is now modern-day Turkey, between 1194BC and 1184BC.
The Trojan wars, according to Homer, began after the Trojan prince, Paris, got mixed up in a messy inter-god feud on Mount Olympus that led to him claiming the married Helen as his bride. The angry Greeks besieged Troy, and the rest is history (or myth, depending on your point of view).
The war raged for ten years, with the Greek hero, Achilles, slaying thousands of Trojans before being killed by an arrow to his heel fired by Paris.
Legend held that, as a baby, Achilles had been dipped by his mother Thetis in the waters of the sacred river Styx to make him invincible. Thetis had held the baby by the heel, leaving this one spot fatally unprotected. The leadership passed to Odysseus (Sean Bean) who eventually overcame the Trojans by fooling them into accepting a wooden horse that, under the cover of darkness, let loose its deadly cargo of Greek warriors held within, who slaughtered the Trojans as they slept. The end.
Actually, a small band of Trojans were supposed to have escaped to Italy to found the Roman race - but that's another legend. …