Writer Julian Fellowes is in his element with British classes coming asunder in a sprawling, century-old tragedy. But will it float as entertainment?

Here’s a Spoiler Alert if ever there was one: the Titanic will sink.

There. Now we can talk.

With James Cameron’s Titanic already having been seen by squillions across the globe, can there really be room for a new dramatic version? Probably not, but such is our collective fascination with the tragedy that many of us, including me, would happily sit down for another re-telling anyway.

When you have a writer as gifted as Julian Fellowes all the more reason to partake.

Fellowes, like many British screenwriters, loves to analyse the classes and Titanic allows him to do just that in spades. First Class, Second Class, Third Class, Servants and Steerage. They are there in droves for him to play with.

This 4 part dramatisation is a mix of both fact and fiction, with Fellowes depicting real characters and those of his own creation. One of the story’s biggest challenges is the parade of characters. If you thought Downton Abbey was busy, wait until you see this -nicknamed Drownton Abbey in the UK.

There’s the Earl of Manton, his wife Lady Manton, suffragette daughter Georgiana and servants Barnes and Watson. There’s Irish lawyer John Batley and wife Muriel, American rich boy Harry Widener, and glimpses of Titanic crew and other passengers who will become more prominent in subsequent episodes. And that’s just for starters.

Episode one focusses on the Manton clan and establishes the attitudes amongst the wealthiest as the White Star liner makes her maiden voyage from Southampton to New York.

Georgina (Perdita Weeks) may be a handful to her father (Linus Roache) but she is instantly attracted to Harry (Noah Reid) -shades of Jack and Rose from Cameron’s epic, in this young romance but they avoid ‘King of the World’ moments and steaming up cars in the cargo.

Lady Manton (Geraldine Somerville) spends so much time looking down her noses at others, that Muriel Batley (Maria Doyle Kennedy) embarrasses her with a home truth at a most inopportune moment.

But while the opening hour is somewhat sluggish in setting up its lengthy cast, the surprise from Fellowes is that the iceberg strikes the liner not long after the half-way mark. With three more episodes in his arsenal, it’s a bold storytelling move.

Here is where Titanic cleverly tackles the challenge of addressing an outcome everybody already knows, and the alternative of having three hours of costume drama before sinking the ship in the fourth. Instead, Titanic will begin to sink three times, across three episodes.

The script shifts focus for each episode, telling the tale from varying perspectives. Each episode ends on a cliffhanger -will our heroes live or die- and not resolving them until all the storylines intersect in the climax. It’s a genius way around two problems.

Other characters in subsequent episodes will feature Captain Smith, Italian waiter Paolo Sandrini and brother Mario, Cabin steward Annie Desmond, mystery man Peter Lubov, engineer Jim Maloney and wife Mary, and (the unsinkable) Mrs. Brown.

Famous moments are re-created, including the fight for life-boats, women and children first, passengers being locked behind gates, the musicians playing on, the captain refusing to leave. Fellowes fuses these legendary moments with his own touches: romance, jealousy, jeopardy, mystery…

The performances, costumes, settings and CGI all come up trumps. If there are any misgivings it is in Fellowes’ own script, ambitiously seeking to portray so many classes -the number of principal and support characters the viewer is expected to follow can be quite overwhelming. But things gets better with each passing adventure.

The final hour is, of course, Titanic‘s money-shot. Here it becomes grand, tragic and poetic. I can’t say with any confidence that it eclipses James Cameron’s epic (and many forget the highly under-rated 1958 A Night to Remember), but if you’ve come this far you want to be suitably horrified and Titanic won’t let you down.

100 years on, this is still a tale that captivates our imagination.

Titanic begins 8:30pm Wednesday April 18 on Seven.

19 Responses

  1. To “Craig”
    Yes exactly right about preffered if they do show the mini series of titanic tonight follow by tomorrow and the following night aswell to finish it up. Rather then ones a week to finish it up. First the most stupid thing a tv network does is that instead of putting this mini series on the (actual date) of the tradegy 100 years ago they would now put this mini series today almost like a week later. (all late) I think like i said.. all tv australian networks has too much rubbish in regards to american so what crime series…. talk shows and all you end up getting is rubbish.

    The most important part is titanic was a tradegy never to be lost nor forgoten. But aparently australian tv channels didn’t care. Its like saying today is anzac day but we will not show the parade on tv because we preffere to put some rubbish crime american series first and we will put the parade event days later on tv… Exactly thats how it sounds like by all means.

    So if this is a 4 part mini series or a 2 part mini series i would rather see it continuesly the following night and not just on a one time every week… This is how aventually it becomes less wanting to now nothing. Just remember all australian tv channels fail to show anything upsolutely anything in regards titanic. Oh only a 1 minute news in regards of titanic. The tv channels has too much lu lah lah with the so what more interest on the so what american programs instead of (educational broaductivity for all young and old) documents.. Documentries are your school work educational. Not the american so what crime series and rubbish dance wanna be famours. Seriously im not happy with the FTA channels. Instead i was force to watch foxtel because thats where the real documents was on titanic. Again not everyone has foxtel nor make it out that we can all afford it.. thank you and to dave for letting this final msg.

  2. @vos – I don’t know if James Cameron will ever do Titanic again, but an interesting fact is he changed the starts in the 3D version at cinemas now because apparently they were wrong.

    Yes FTA should have now more, Seven and SBS show something over the weekend. Not sure of the others.

    As for the mini series I guess Seven is showing it in 2x 2h parts not the 4 parts as in the UK. The problem with this is mid way though the first 2 hours they go back to the start again, which will confuse those not in the know. Why not show it over 4 nights?

    I think it will bomb in the ratings. The final is probably better than the first 3 but still not as good as it should have been, JMO.

  3. To “ann” Yes considering it was the titanic anniversary on the actual -date- all australian television networks did not bother showing anything not even documentries on titanic on free to air television. I rekon they have too much lu lah lah american so what programes of crime and series on tv here. And that’s what makes me mad about because not everyone has Foxtel to watch titanic documents. So all free to air channels fail with bad reputation like they don’t care. However all thru the week there was Titanic documentries on the history channel and Geographic channel which is good but come on… not everyone has pay televison. And now that the anniversary was a few days ago… channel 7 considering putting special mini series of titanic. Now why not on the first date of the anniversary rather then a week or days later? Its like saying today its anzac day.. Oh but the tv channel would preffer to show the anzac parade a few days later.. because they have crime series to finish in the time slot. Thats how it sounds like.

    To “Craig” thank you kindly for the link. Yes there was alot or at least only some error specialy the titanic the movie 1997. Cameron on that foxtel titanic document said he wish he could re-make the movie. I think he said he will change a few but if that was the case it will be change endless and he end up saying (where do you stop) so i think its better to leave it as it is because making the movie is now history in the making. However i personaly dont no if he will re-create titanic or he wants to or its too late now ?

  4. A Night to Remember is a more factual account…from a book by Walter Lord…and not as flashy as James Camerons version….as you would expect…..
    Camerons version is a fictional love story….set around the events of the Titanic…and never claimed to be a factual version.

  5. @vos – yes it’s a new mini series, I have no idea about the clothes and I guess for most they wouldn’t know either.

    As for the technical errors I also saw the James Cameron special on NatGeo and like he said they would have to remake to movie to correct every minor error and technical mistakes they have uncovered in the last 25 years. Even for a movie like Titanic it’s not worth it. But don’t worry I’m sure someone else will make another Titanic movie before too long!


  6. By the way sorry.. Is this a new mini series of titanic created today or is this a mini series of titanic created in the 1990s ? the one in the 1990s had too many errors i count count a few…. they really need to look back in time and correct that.. specialy how ladies used to dressed up.. the previews mini series the ladies looked like they where more dressed as if it was the 1920s rather then what 1912 really was. Facts.

  7. I should look forward to the 2 mini series of Titanic. but lets not make no mistakes… the actual movie of Titanic in 1997 had plenty of errors and now we understand that they could correct that but its far too hassle to correct it when its allready created the movie. Thats what the director said yesturday on a foxtel documentry on the surviving titanic and ways how it would of been.

    I hope this mini series may not be another misleading mistake or how they are dressed and whats around them. They have to 100% make it the perfect way how technology was in 1912… sometimes movies like this i remember a 1990s series of titanic the actors looked like they where more dressed up like fashion of the 1920s then what fashion actually was in the 1912 year… So they have to correct this… bcause 1912 vs 1920 is different fashion all together. At least some.

    Channel 7 is the perfect channel for Titanic. i actually like the logo its unique.. cant imkagine titanic on channel 9.. channel 9 is getting too reality nowdays in time for,… (big brother)

  8. @goffy – I agree, at least in the final the boat sink which might make it worth watching?

    What I would love to see is a HBO or Showtime drama based around the events after the sinking, the survivors and inquiry into the disaster. Has that ever been done?

  9. Ive seen the first three episodes, was dissapointed by it. Anyone who hated 1997 titanic For its time spent on the love story will have similar hatred for this series.

    Beyond that, fellowes seems to put as many conspiracies as he possibly could, regardless of whether they are proven to be true or false.

    The sets pale in comparison to James camerons product, obviously due to the Budget but it still makes me sad seeing it do poorly done.

  10. Thanks David. 🙂

    I like that they are probably doing two episodes at once. That way it can be over with over a couple of different days or weeks. I’ve also heard the second episode is better. But the one annoyance is they’ll probably ruin the credits. Even at the end of the second episode. That’s why I like to avoid Seven especially with films or film like experiences. Especially if I care about it and I care about Titanic.

  11. Someone (7 I suspect) has rights to the Hallmark “The Titanic”. Peter Gallagher, George C. Scott, Catherine Zeta Jones, Eva Marie Saint. Hopefully whoever has it will run it on one of their channels.

  12. I’ll admit I view A Night to Remember as the definitive film version although it didn’t have everything. There’s a remastered version about to be released on DVD/Blu-ray if anybody is interested. I’ve been waiting years for it.

    I’m wondering David are they showing 2 episodes on Wednesday? And will that continue Sunday or Wednesday? Does anybody know?

  13. I don’t think I’ve disagreed with one of your reviews more David.
    This miniseries was absolutely terrible the acting is wooden, the effects very below expectations (I wasn’t expecting the calibur of Cameron’s $200 million movie but smaller shows have done better effects) and its slow despite the iceberg hitting half way throught he first episode – its almost cringeworth. I won’t even finish the show off.

  14. I guess we won’t be able to escape the Titanic in the next 2 weeks. I was amazed SN & 60 Mins hasn’t done specials on the 100th anv.

    Now to the mini series. I found the first 2 a little slow in parts, thats my only complaint so far. The final might be the best when the first 3 come together. Ratings will be interesting, will the final get the best numbers?

    I also wonder if the used the new findings by James Cameron on exactly how the ship went down? Just saw a special in National Geographic last night where they determined what we say in the James Cameron movie was not 100% true on how the ship actually went under the water.

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