Thursday, July 26, 2012

Drama MiniSeries: Titanic. One Voyage. A World of Untold Stories

Titanic written by Oscar and Emmy winner, Julian Fellowes, more recently renowned for his Downton Abbey series tells the stories of people on the fated maiden voyage of the Titanic.

There are four episodes to the mini-series, the first of which briefly introduces all the main characters and then follows the Titanic on her fateful first voyage. The remaining three episodes repeat that timeline, each time providing more insight into the characters and fleshing out the events each set of characters experience until the sinking of the ship.

For example, one set of characters we follow are Paolo and Mario Sandrini, two Italian brothers looking for a better life in America. Episode One shows Mario leading his brother Paolo onto the Titanic, but then they each go their separate ways - Paolo to the stewards quarters and Mario to the stokers quarters. In the second episode we learn that only Mario had been hired to work on Titanic and we see Paolo working in first class restaurant and developing a friendship with Annie Desmond who is a Cabin Stewardess for Second Class. Paolo is a dreamer, while Mario is more practical. By the third episode we learn that Paolo secures a position on Titanic as a Steward in First Class when an English Steward goes missing.

Some of the characters followed throughout the miniseries include the fictional Hugh Earl of Manton, his wife, Louisa, Countess of Manton, and their daughter Lady Georgina Grex who is involved with the women's suffragette movement in Britain; Barnes who is the Earl's valet and Watson who is the Countess's maid; John and Muriel Bately who are Second Class passengers; steerage passengers Jim Maloney who is given passage on the Titanic as payment for completing the electrical wiring of the ship on time and his wife Mary and their four children.

There are plenty of historical characters thrown into the mix as well; Bruce Ismay, Chairman of White Star Lines; Lord Pirrie,chairman of Harland and Wolff, builders of Titanic; wealthy American Benjamin Guggenheim and his lover Madame Aubart; Grace and Joseph Rushton, representative of the nouveau riche class; Sir Cosmo and Lady Duff Gordon, a Scottish baronet; John Jacob Astor and his young, pregnant second wife Ava who are returning from their honeymoon overseas; and Margaret "Molly" Brown, a wealthy American who insisted that the lifeboat she was in return to pick up survivors.

There is also the controversial Peter the Painter, known as Peter Piatkov, a Latvian national who was thought to be involved in the Sidney Street Seige in 1911 in London, England. Peter has boarded Titanic to escape to America and helps the third class passengers in their fight to be allowed onto Titanic's upper decks.

The trick to a drama in which everyone knows the ending, is to add some new characters (will they survive?) so we can explore their lives, add some historical figures who set down the reality of the situation, and find a unique way to retell that story. Fellowes tries to accomplish the latter by looping back to the beginning with each of the four parts, but it becomes repetitive and even predictable. There are so many characters introduced in the first episode that it's difficult to keep track of them and most of the drama is standard fare and rather boring.

The final episode does have some touching moments, for example, when Jim Maloney finds his lost daughter Theresa, in a flooding stairwell, and when John and Muriel Bates decide to reconcile and accept what their life has been. The ending does manage to capture the horror of hundreds of passengers and crew thrown into the frigid North Atlantic waters, the lifeboats coming upon the dead and the dying, and finally only the silence remaining on a glassy sea while waiting to be rescued. Missing however, were the chunks of sea ice and the frosty breath of survivors in the boats.

There are some puzzling shots in the first episode which appear to show Titanic low in the water as she is sinking rather than in her iconic stern-raised pose - she sank bow first but split apart between the third and fourth funnel.

Titanic does focus a great deal on the class prejudice which existed at this time in Western society and which was so dramatically demonstrated in the Titanic disaster by the difference in survival rates between first class passengers and third class passengers.

Once again, a drama about a terrible tragedy which doesn't really capture the essence of the disaster.

No comments: