Sunday, August 12, 2012

ITV's Titanic Miniseries

When the story of the "Unsinkable Ship" reigns as one of the top grossing motion pictures ever, what do you do to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the tragedy?

You hire Julian Fellowes (Gosford Park, Downton Abbey) to pen a four part mini-series of course!

Although it aired back in April, I was unable to watch the series until it hit Netflix this month. I managed to spread it over two days... barely!

Like many of us, I've been intrigued by the disaster of the Titanic since I was a child. It's so massive, so tragic, so hugely a part of our history. It's nearly impossible to board a ship today without thinking of the Titanic's fate - although because of that fate, we have far more stringent safety rules today.

But back to the point - if you've already seen the James Cameron film, why should you bother with this mini-series? What is left to tell?

Quite a lot, actually. Instead of focusing on a doomed love-story, this Titanic focuses on half a dozen families across the social board. It makes for a slightly confusing cast at times, but overall it does a far stronger job of driving home the reality that the people who died were real people.

There's another difference too. Each of the four parts starts in London, and all of the main cast appear in each episode. The final act is always the Titanic sinking. Sound confusing? Believe it or not, it works. Each episode shows us more behind each family, each person's motives, and each one takes us a bit further into the sinking.

It ended up working pretty brilliantly. Each part has three acts, each part leads into the next (you do have to watch in order!), and yet each focuses on the disaster (rather than two and a half leading up to it, and one and a half of screaming and sinking). At the same time, it gives you the full scope of the tragedy in watchable portions. Rather than being completely overwhelmed and unable to process the sheer magnitude, the viewer is given the chance to completely experience the horror, take a break and process it, then come back for another episode that leads you back into it gradually.

Which also helps relieve the cheap shock value. It's NOT a disaster movie full of thrills. It's a respectful homage to the lives of everyone who died. One thing that the Cameron film failed to show was just the level of chivalry that was shown in men giving up their lives to keep women and children safe. The mini-series captures these sacrifices perfectly.

It also does an excellent job of creating fully dimensional characters in every aspect of life on the ship. First class, second class, third class, steward, maid, coal shoveler - they're all in there. Children as well, which for me brought home the full strength of just how horrible the sinking was.

And not one bit of the production seems low budget. Although not flashy, the digital effects move seamlessly with the rest of the production. Several times I had to remind myself that something had to be digital (so that I could appreciate fully the work that went into the film), because there was never a moment when I was pulled out of watching to go 'oh that part of the city is CGI' or 'the ship isn't really there', etc, etc.

And the acting... oh the acting! It's fabulous. Perhaps not quite at Downton Abbey standards, but very, very close! This was my first time watching Jenna-Louise Coleman (the upcoming companion on Doctor Who) in action, and she was brilliant!

Finally, the film is very clear of any objectionable scenes. There is one extramarital kiss, and some discussion about an affair, but nothing is explicitly shown, and the language is pretty accurate to the times. I'd say that anyone who could deal with the heartbreak of the tragedy like that (CHILDREN DIE, CHILDREN YOU CARE ABOUT, BE WARNED!), could deal with anything else in the mature content lines.

Cameron's Titanic will be remembered because of the records, and what it did for the technology of filmmaking. But Fellowes' Titanic is the one that should be watched and rewatched through the generations, because it gives a far more accurate and human portrayal of what happened.

1 comment:

Chelise Fry said...

Ooh, another mini series for my list! Thank you! Thoughtful review too, really enjoyed it.