Sunday, 1 April 2012

Titanic on ITV1: "But I'm telling you important plot points that will refer to key moments later!"

The problem with any drama about the Titanic is that we already know the ending: ship sinks, people die. It was a horrible tragedy.

So any drama based on what happened has to have a whole load of other character-based action going on, to take us to the part where the ship sinks and people die.

But for that to pass as entertainment and for it to have an impact as drama we need to be drawn in and involved - otherwise we're just watching nice pictures with hats while trying to spot the green-screen.

And even though nice pictures (and hat-watching) can sometimes be enough, the hopes for the Julian Fellowes' penned four part ITV version, to mark the 100th anniversary of the event, were generally high - not least because of his success with Downton Abbey, which itself began, dramatically-speaking, in the same year as the Titanic: 1912.

'Clunk!'

But to criticise, as some did after Titanic's first episode, a Julian Fellowes script for its clunky exposition dialogue ("You British are obsessed with class!" says an American obsessed with class) and characterisation depicted in the broadest of strokes where the actors have to do much of the work (rather than relying on the script) is like describing a kitten as fluffy and cute. It just is what it is, and some people will love it, while others are just dog people. Erm.

So there are - CLUNK! - lines like this from Lady Georgiana, which tell us she is spirited and independent but ultimately reliant on her rich, influential father, the Earl of Manton: "It was a demonstration for our right to vote," she says as he comes to rescue her from police custody, while all the thieves and tarts have to languish there unloved, poor and alone, "because remember us women couldn't vote in 1912 and our protests became much more militant in this period due to the prime minister's last minute change of mind about giving it to us!" she all but adds for the sake of historical accuracy.

And later - CLUNK! - "There is space for 32 lifeboats so why haven't we used them?" asks the ship's architect Thomas Andrews, in an English accent (the real-life man was from Ulster).

"Because the law states we only need 16 and that is what we have! I will not have the promenade ruined or the ladies terrified out of their wits!" replies Bruce Ismay, from the ship's owners White Star.

The £11m 10-week shoot at Stern studios in Hungary involved 80 cast and hundreds of extras,
and 470 - 470! - CGI shots, like this one, made with a man and an Apple Mac, possibly 

'The story of the whole ship'

To be fair, perhaps much of this set up is required to help make sense of what happens later, but exposition and description as dialogue is only bad when you spot it. And even then it's not necessarily inexcusable - it's just that character-based dialogue about people and their own lives is often more interesting, rather than when it's explanation just to help us get to a plot point.

In turn this means our chances of connecting with any of the characters are hindered, which ultimately means you don't care if they drown or not.

"Right from the start, we set out to tell the story of the whole ship," says Julian Fellowes, indicating the huge scope he set out to cover in only four episodes. "So we have characters and narrative among the boilermen and the First Class, the officers, the stewards and stewardesses, the Second Class, the Third Class and the servants of the First Class. And I think, in the end, you should get a pretty rounded image of the ship."

Or perhaps just end up a bit confused?

But there is hope: what might make this version stand out - and in a good way - is that each episode tells the same events, and even sometimes the same scenes, from a different character's perspective - so with each passing episode we should get further drawn in as the (hoped-for) multi-character storyline develops further and we see alternative viewpoints of the same situations.

Assuming people stay with it, that is - after all, it's not like we don't know how it all ends.

Related stories:
Nazi Titanic: A documentary about a little-known Nazi version of the Titanic story
Downton Abbey series 2 episode 1 review? More like SOPHORIFIC Abbey! LOL ;) Er...

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