ITV's Titanic (Julian Fellowes) - First episode review
Review by Rob Carnevale
JULIAN Fellowes’ take on Titanic almost inevitably set sail with its own iceberg to navigate in the form of James Cameron’s Oscar-winning movie version. Thus far, it appears to have its work cut avoiding unflattering comparisons.
The first episode of this four-part dramatisation (rumoured to be the most expensive British drama of all-time) was a strangely uninvolving effort, high on style but short on emotional resonance. If anything, it appeared to be going through the motions at times.
But a big part of the problem was the storytelling device itself, which sees each episode follow a specific set of characters up to the sinking of the ship before rewinding events to see them from someone else’s perspective.
In episode one, the focus was primarily on Lord and Lady Manton (Linus Roache and Geraldine Somerville) as well as their suffragette daughter Georgiana (Perdita Weeks).
This, in turn, brought them into contact with various other upper level passengers (most of whom Lady Manton looked down upon) as well as Manton’s solicitor (Toby Jones) and his opinionated wife (Maria Doyle Kennedy, of Downton Abbey fame), who while primarily occupying the deck below had been invited to an afternoon tea.
There were other characters, from Italian servants to American billionaires, but few really had time to register before Titanic hit its iceberg and the upper classes helped themselves to the primary seats on the lifeboats.
Yet even this underwhelmed. The impact with the iceberg arrived suddenly and was barely dwelt upon, while there was very little sense of panic. It was all very mannered with the Mantons walking from one lifeboat to the next, debating whether the women should stay or go.
In truth, barring Weeks’ spirited Georgiana, you didn’t really care who perished, such was Fellowes’ failure to endear many of the characters to viewers, for in a real-life economic climate where the rich seem to be getting richer, and the poor are left to sink in debt and/or taxes, watching a few privileged toffs being given a helping hand to safety felt a little self-defeating. It was a curious place to start proceedings.
Fortunately, from a technical viewpoint, this ITV production is the equal of Cameron’s more illustrious big screen version.
Fellowes’ is a stickler for attention to detail and this was observed in the look and feel of proceedings, which captured both the majesty of the ship itself and the folly of those who declared her unsinkable.
A preview of next week’s episode, meanwhile, promises more greater analysis of this point, as key characters were seen debating the merits of not equipping it with enough lifeboats, as well as the tragedy unfolding from different perspectives – some of whom offered more potential for interest and sorrow.
Hence, there is enough to suggest that this lavish series may still be worth sticking with.
But I would be remiss not to point out one other curious failing on this drama’s behalf, which resulted from ITV’s curious advertising policy.
During the first intermission, viewers were treated to a full blown advert for Cameron’s movie (back in cinemas on April 6), which further raised the memory of that Oscar-winner in people’s minds.
While in the second set of adverts, Kate Winslet (aka Rose herself) cropped up in an advert for Sky film (or something) to bring back yet another reminder. You half expected Leonardo DiCaprio to complete the hat-trick in the third intermission… although, perhaps wisely by that stage, no further nods to Cameron’s version had been booked.
By that time, alas, this first episode of ITV’s Titanic had pretty much sunk itself. But given the promise of better to come, we shouldn’t jump ship just yet.