BBC One and Netflix’s epic fantasy drama Troy: Fall Of A City was conscious not to make its female characters, including Helen of Troy, merely the “vapid, pretty playthings” of men, according to creator David Farr.

Farr, the man behind BBC and AMC’s Tom Hiddleston-fronted spy drama The Night Manager, was careful to construct three-dimensional female characters to ensure that the eight-part drama was not just another swords-and-sandals fight-fest. But don’t worry, there’s still plenty of action.

The show tells the story of the fall of Troy, an epic tale of mortals and gods, following the “scandalous” love affair between Paris and Helen, which stars a war. It is told from the perspective of the Trojan royal family at the heart of the siege.

Farr said: “It started with Helen because she’s [usually] either the bitch or the vapid pretty blonde one and what interested me was that she was a mother of a young women so there’s much more going on there. I was thinking about the psychological depictions of unhappy marriages and the wrenching pain. Instead of stabbing your treacherous wife in a carpark you send the Greek army, it’s not that different and her desire for self-empowerment, by leaving in this case it has catastrophic consequences.”

Mansfield Park and AI star Frances O’Connor, who plays Hecuba, Queen of Troy, said: “We felt like we all had these very three-dimensional characters that were all very different and we weren’t just the queen, who sits quietly listening to her husband and looking pretty, it’s really like we all had psychological dilemmas. It’s happening more and more like that anyway [across the industry] with fantastic roles for women to play.”

The drama was created by Farr after a conversation with Wild Mercury boss Derek Wax and is a co-production with Broadchurch producer Kudos. Both are Endemol Shine Group companies.

Wax said: “I started reading these Greek myths again and was struck by how raw they are and full emotions as well as the moral decisions people are faced with. I just wondered might there be a way to mine the psychological complexity of it. It would be a huge challenge but I wanted to see if we could make it into an accessible, mainstream television series.”

Farr had previously written a “weird” adaptation of The Odyssey, set in a modern-day detention center, for the stage. “I wondered whether there was a way you could do the Iliad and the great Greek play based on it from a Trojan point of view. Could you explore it in a long form television way, which suits a city, you get to know it and the people in it, unlike film which tends to lean towards more the superhero version of this story. You can settle the pace and get to know people and the actors have time to explore the world.”

The producers put together a stellar, and rather large cast, including The Foster’s Louis Hunter as Paris, Guerilla’s Bella Dayne as Helen, Shameless’ David Threlfall as King Priam of Troy, Copper’s Tom Weston-Jones as Hector, Game of Thrones’ Joseph Mawle as Odysseus, This Is England’s Johnny Harris as Agamemnon, Dark Angel’s Jonas Armstrong as Menelaos, War and Peace’s Chloe Pirrie as Andromache and How To Get Away With Murder’s Alfred Enoch as Trojan general Aeneas.

In addition to complex stories of the characters, the big-budget drama, which is thought to have a budget of around $3M per episode, does feature a number of massive, violent fight scenes.

Filmed in Cape Town in South Africa, the series was directed by Owen Harris (Kill Your Friends, Black Mirror), Mark Brozel (Humans) and John Strickland (Line of Duty). But Harris said that they wanted to make sure the audience wasn’t “battle-weary”. “One act of violence can be just as shocking as 50 crammed into two minutes,” he said.

“A crisis of identity is resonant all the way through and means we’re not just reliant on battles. We’re a television programme we cant do that for 40 minutes of every show and we don’t want to, we’re interested in exploring the internal landscape and that takes us through to dramatic and extreme places later on,” added Farr.

The drama launches on BBC One at the end of February and is one of the latest series to air in a primetime Saturday night slot following launches for shows such as Tom Hardy’s Taboo and Hard Sun. It will then air on Netflix in the U.S. and around the world. Endemol Shine International will distribute.