100 years later, the fated voyage of one ship is still remembered. If you’ve been living on another planet, in all likelihood news of the RMS Titanic’s 100th anniversary has not reached your ears. More than likely, you have seen the commotion surrounding this milestone. It has been in the newspapers, among other major outlets.
To coincide with the anniversary, the spectacular British scripter Julian Fellowes adapted the tragedy into a four-hour miniseries in which a new set of fictional character’s lives unfold. Tragic or not, this is a memorable series.
As a part of the upper-class aristocracy, the Earl of Manton (Linus Roache) is used to getting whatever he wants. He has booked passage on the maiden voyage of the RMS Titanic for himself and his snobbish, aristocratic wife (Geraldine Somerville) but not their daughter. That all changes when his suffragette daughter, Georgiana (Perdita Weeks) finds herself on the wrong side of a jail cell, and he scrambles to secure passage for her. En route to the ship, the family meets with John Bately (Toby Jones), an attorney travelling with his wife, Muriel (Maria Doyle Kennedy). Bately is employed by Lord Manton with a purpose of seeing that his past sins remain buried – secrets that he’d rather his proud wife not know about.
In steerage, the Manton’s manservant, Barnes (Lee Ross) teases the quiet ladies maid Mabel Watson (Lydsey Marshal) and her bookish sensibilities lead. Just prior to the ship’s sailing, 2nd officer Lightoller (Steven Waddington) offers Paolo Sandrini (Glen Blackhall) the chance for a new life. When the pretty Annie Desmond (Jenna-Louise Coleman) catches Paolo’s attentions, life with the hard-working maid formulates in his dreams, all of which he is unaware might remain only that.
I have a confession to make. I have never seen any version of Titanic nor read a book solely based on the events surrounding the sinking of what was helmed as an “unsinkable” vessel. Years later I still haven't rented the 1996 adaptation. Its popularity made its female star the name that she is today and its theme song is gorgeous but apart from that, I have little motivation to see it. It was this Fellowes (creator of the charming Downton Abbey) series that piqued my curiosity most. Much like the lush Downton Abbey, this latest two-parter to come from Fellowes pen explores the world of the aristocracy from their perspective as well as their servants.
Let me just get this out of the way right away: I actually loved this series. Although not surprised, it still made me sad to know that so many people didn’t find this worthy of its programming time. Perhaps I should preference this with the fact that I am looking at it strictly from a cinematic point-of-view, not historical. Since I know next-to-nothing about the exact events it would be unfair to view this from any other perspective. Granted, I also have nothing to compare it to, but in my opinion, this is exactly how I want to see a story about the Titanic. When first I heard all four one-hour episodes were to end with the terror of hitting the iceberg re-lived, my first thought was how horrible that would be.
Then I saw it on film. True, reliving it times four is not ideal but it also keeps up the pretense of drama, and us glued to the television screen instead of merely watching an alternate version of “Downton” set at sea. Unfortunately, if there is one failing, it's the characters. None of them ever managed to grip me or elect my sympathy. Naturally, there is sorrow because of the impending doom that keeps us in a dreaded state for every single person on the ship because they knew nothing of what was to come. This is both an advantage and disadvantage.
It's "good" because we don’t want these people to be the next “Jack and Rose” who we shed legions of tears over, but disappointing because despite it all, we do like to “connect” with characters. There is a moment between the Bately’s that is touching, and a heart-wrenching scene between a man and his daughter. Annie and Paolo are adorable together and I loved the spunk Perdita (sister of Honeysuckle Week’s) brought to her role – reflections of Lady Sybil anyone? Those of you who are scholars of the event will probably be annoyed certain character's depictions, who are pitted as cowards. Such a vast array of characters is confusing but for the most part, each episodic story tries its hardest to break everything down so it's simpler to recognize everyone. At the same time, the repetitive patterns of scenes can be annoying. On the one side, I accept why filmmakers did this and even appreciate it however I do think it could have allowed more film to show new perspectives rather than so many frames that we had already seen.
Perhaps what most surprised me about this series was the fact that I did like it. It was lovely in a tragic sort of way. The costuming is pretty to look at and it felt like a story about the infamous Titanic that I could actually “enjoy.” Plus the cast list was impressive beyond anything else. There is a vast sense of loss even without connecting deeply with the characters. We mourn for the loss of young love and those who didn't get a chance to say good-bye. Even with its flaws (such as poor special effects), I could see myself purchasing this mini-series and re-visiting it on occasion. It isn’t perfect but then, what is? For the most part, it's a beautiful film that is in many ways, unforgettable.
For those of you who saw it, what were your impressions? I’d love to know your thoughts, readers.
CONTENT: Rated TVPG, there is one scene of an unmarried couple lying in bed in the nude – there are whisperings about them not being married. There are a few tense moments [a group of men are locked into a room, another's neck is broken] and many people die [mainly off-screen]. A man punches someone who “steals” kisses from his wife; an old affair is uncovered.