Titanic – The End of The End is Nigh week?

Titanic (no not the James Cameron blockbuster) is currently available on instant Netflix.

One Line Review: Yes, this is Titanic Abbey – if you like Downton, you’ll enjoy this even though it doesn’t measure up to Downton.

Titanic (2012) – Rated TV-PG

“This extraordinary re-telling of the doomed voyage, written by Julian Fellowes, retells the tragic sinking of RMS Titanic, featuring multiple personal narratives and a large and accomplished cast.”

Why would someone undertake to make a TV miniseries about the Titanic that has 1/10 the budget of the definitive tale told by James Cameron? Yes, the 100th anniversary of the sinking is a good excuse but why? This version is definitely not a cash grab.

James Cameron’s Titanic went to a lot of effort to accurately recreate the look of the Titanic and the feel of life aboard ship. However a majority of Cameron’s screentime was spent on either the central romance of Jack and Rose or the very long action adventure finale so most of the parts that might be considered important to understand were in the background. Also Cameron seemed to be more interested in the nuts and bolts facts rather than a feel for how the class system worked.

This new version of Titanic is directed by Jon Jones but (with no offense meant to Jones) it is clear that it is really writer Julian Fellowes’ Titanic. I’m not sure whether it was just to entice audiences each night but I found the central conceit of his screenplay fascinating.

The first episode introduces us to many characters but basically follows the Earl of Manton and his family in First Class and gives us a whirlwind glimpse into that life before spending just a little bit of time on the aftermath of the iceberg collision. The story then rewinds for the second episode and focuses mainly on a second class couple, while fleshing out a few of the missing detail from the first episode. The second episode ends slightly further along than episode one. The third takes us lower down the class ladder and the fourth details the aftermath of hitting the iceberg.

Fellowes’ Titanic features an unwieldy cast with no big names. Strangely I only noticed one of Fellowes’ Downton Abbey cast in it. My only guess is that the two series were filmed concurrently or budgetary concerns didn’t allow for Titanic to score Downton actors (or many name actors).

Maria Doyle Kennedy, who plays the evil Vera Bates on Downton, plays a less scheming but almost as unpleasant Muriel Batley here. Toby Jones does an excellent job of playing her husband, lawyer and second-class passenger John Batley. The rest of the cast do their jobs well, though none of them particularly stand out.

One of the things Fellowes does well, here and in Downton, is to detail the lives and class of people from this era. It was nice to see the way servants of first class passengers were treated both as first class and second class.

Do not watch this expecting an action adventure film or even a disaster film. Do watch it as an engrossing example of how people lived back then. Fellowes does an admirable job detailing the disaster that befell the Titanic even if the budget doesn’t really allow the majestic ship to shine or the special effects to entice.

Titanic is a very enjoyable class drama albeit somewhat confusing with the large cast involved.

Follow-Up: If this whets your appetite for more Titanic then do NOT watch Titanic II from Asylum. Do watch the Imax documentary, Titanica, which details a 1992 dive to explore the wreckage as well as some accounts from survivor Eva Hart.