Have You Been Watching… Titanic?

"Are you sure we should be wearing these sacks stuffed with bricks, captain?"

First of all, a confession. This article asks “have you been watching” and although my answer is “yes, of course I watched Titanic Episode One, TV Event of the Year”, I’d also have to mutter “But I was playing Skyrim at the same time so I’m slightly confused about the vast numbers of ice trolls and draugr below decks. And why those dragons kept hampering rescue attempts”.

So any inconsistencies in this series catch up are my own. In fact, let’s pretend they’re intentional comedy asides, so please chuckle accordingly.

First of all, Titanic (or ‘Drownton Abbey’ as Twitter wag MrsStephenFry cleverly titled it) plays fast and loose with linear storytelling and perhaps it’s still too soon in the series run to see whether it really works.

However, if things were linear, it’d be about as fun as taking the Dieppe ferry wearing worsted and a starched collar and then dying at the end (so, about as much fun as taking the Dieppe ferry, then), so Lord Julian had to do something.

I like to imagine this involved pouring another port, sparking up a Cuban, then throwing his script in the air and picking up the pages where they fell.

Secondly, there are an awful lot of clunky, telegraphed doom-warnings, along the lines of:

“We HAVE had warnings of ice from ships in the area, captain!” and “where HAVE the binoculars got to?” – but we expect nothing less from Julian Fellowes.

On the plus side, the occasional piece of good dialogue sparkles like the 200-foot-high colossus of frozen annihilation that, at one point, in a genuinely wonderful screen moment, sails silently past the speechless Toby Jones before plunging its crystalline talons into the guts of the ship.

This time around  (sorry, it seems my subconscious believes Titanic to be a prequel to Downton Abbey) the below-stairs staff/passengers are more explicitly the good guys, which is how it should be.

The toffs are either General Melchett or, in one unsettlingly unsubtle case, Matthew Crawley, but either way, some one-dimensional combination of viciously entitled and cluelessly (and chinlessly) useless.

Among the distaff side are an awful lot of repressed young women with Molly Ringwald hairstyles. Fortunately for every lady whose lusts and liberties are held back only by whalebone, there are a bevy of handsomely insolent Italian charmers on board. Unfortunately, most of them are in the engine room, which is the 1912 equivalent of being the anonymous officer beamed onto a planet with Kirk and Spock.

They’re krill-fodder, basically.

Where it gets properly confusing is in second class, where the passengers are resentful of/ forelock-tugging towards their first class betters, yet still bound by stifling etiquette…unlike their inferiors in steerage where it’s all servants and foreigners having a right old knees up (by which I mean working like dogs, living 25 to a pilchard tin, yet still managing to find time to fondle and wink at each other like turn of the century Peter Stringfellows).

Unfortunately, one place they’re not likely to end up is inside a lifeboat. The lifeboats on the Titanic have become a de facto analogy for the greed and baseness of the human condition (from the owners who built only half as many as they needed, to the crew member who insists only first class passengers may be granted salvation) and a large chunk of the series is devoted to them.

They create a poignant dichotomy – anonymous, panicking masses tumbling and crying on the listing deck, alongside the intimate tales of loss and love from passengers who don’t know whether they can even hope to survive.

Like the poor steerage passengers, Titanic is in a bit of a mess.

One thing it lacks after two episodes is recognisable characters. The “baddies” are mere cyphers representing the selfish, old-fashioned face of patriarchy, while the heroes are little more than the opposite (though Toby Jones and his terrifying wife- Mrs Bates from Downton- get an honourable mention), and just as stereotypical.

We’re halfway through the miniseries already, so it’s a shame we can’t delve any deeper.

This doesn’t really feel like a series that begged to be made. There’s a sense of forcedness throughout, an undercurrent of desperation considering the scale and ambition this kind of production has to have. That said, after two episodes I’m sufficiently interested to watch the rest. And not just for the lovely Perdita Weeks.

Last word goes to my better half, who asks “but what’s going to happen in series 2?”, to which the answer can only be, well, this:

Deathstar-ton Abbey, anyone?


3 Responses to Have You Been Watching… Titanic?

  1. FuTeffla says:

    God, I wish I’d been playing Skyrim through it. So far, it’s been a lot of interchangeable cardboard cut-outs clumsily foreshadowing at every turn and reminding everyone that Class Was Very Important Back Then in a way that is charming on Downton Abbey and really isn’t here.

    • Hilary Wardle says:

      “Hello sir. Er, there seems to be an iceberg in the way..”


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