There’s a lot of hype surrounding Julian Fellowes’ Titanic, but reviews from the UK aren’t exactly agreed on the ITV series.
The opening scenes were filled with a kind of wonder, as the passengers arrived for this magical voyage. The setting was handsome, the acting efficient. But the characters were never given time to develop, partly because the ship was speeding too fast towards its date with fate. No sooner were they on board and eating scones or sipping whisky than they were rushing towards the lifeboats. Bizarrely, however, the collision with the iceberg was curiously undramatic – represented by a bit of water in the engine room – as was the chaos that ensued. There was both too much and too little to concentrate on, and no-one to care about. If I were forced to judge Titanic on this one episode alone, I’d call it a damp squib – but having seen part two, I can assure you it gets better.
In an innovative, but not entirely successful move, viewers will watch the boat begin to sink at the end of each episode, as Fellowes retells the story from different characters’ viewpoints. Who survives the tragedy, however, is not revealed until the final episode. The effect is sometimes confusing, with multiple story arcs overlapping, and the action both repeating and at times moving at such a pace that it threatens to leave viewers struggling to empathise with characters they have only just met. The dialogue too sometimes leans towards the “Shouldn’t we be careful of icebergs?” school of exposition – which viewers of the sometimes clumsy second series of Downton may recognise. Starring Linus Roache, Geraldine Somerville, Toby Jones and Celia Imrie, the production was filmed on an enormous set in Hungary, where a portion of the ship was re-created. The actors, swaddled in wool coats against the supposed Arctic winds, in fact found themselves sweating as they filmed the rush for lifeboats on the deck of the ship.
But another Guardian article says:
This leaves Julian Fellowes free to concentrate on what he’s good at: intricate class study. On board a ship this is a wonderfully literal business, with the servants of the first-class passengers a cringingly superb example of upward mobility. We also get an interesting interplay between nationalities: no one wants to be dubbed Irish, the Americans feel superior but are aggrieved that they’re looked down on, and the English and Scots want to stick together. As a phenomenon, it’s very watchable. Not least for the costumes which are stunning. And the hats … The hats! Perhaps less reassuringly fun is the existence of no less than 82 characters. I’m not sure EastEnders has had that many in its 27-year existence – and this is a four-part drama. At least whatever happens there can’t be a second series. As Fellowes has quipped: “It would have to be directed by Jacques Cousteau.”
As a steward slams the grilles on the third-class passengers, first-class ladies bicker about the seating arrangements in the lifeboats. And, because viewers will have to wait for next week for the more interesting overlaps to reveal themselves, it looks for now like a conventional telling of the story rather than a revelatory one. It has miraculously speedy romances, villainous plutocrats and relishable moments of Edwardian stiff upper lip. “First I will change into something more gentlemanly,” declares Benjamin Guggenheim calmly, as the saloon starts to tilt, “then we will wait upon events.” A fine moment, but as any Titanorak will know, life supplied that scene, not Mr Fellowes. We still have to see whether he can invent anything as good.
The four parter is expected to air on Seven next month.