We’ve had three instalments of ITV’s Titanic now and scriptwriter Fellowes’ looping-back narrative is starting to feel ever so slightly tired. The iceberg has shown up at least twice, the ship’s engines have stopped three times and the resulting silence packs less of a punch in each episode.
Fellowes’ narrative is a bold experiment that looks like it might fail to top the more conventional linear way of telling a story. And it’s not entirely surprising if it does.
Never mind the lack of suspense – not every writer does suspense. Fellowes’ speciality is something else; an almost surgical dissection of a world. The problem is that he’s given himself the arduous task of telling multiple characters’ stories in under an hour each week and trying to make those stories engaging, something most screen-writers fail to do in the two hours allotted to a film.
This week he told the story of the Titanic from the viewpoint of Europeans eager to escape tired old Europe for a better life in the New World, namely two Italian brothers, the Northern Irish wife of the ship’s engineer and a terrorist.
A lot of hopes are pinned on the doomed ship, a fact that adds to the poignancy of its destruction, and we also get a glimpse of a fascinating footnote in American history – the third wave of European migration – so hats off to Fellowes for his ambitiously wide-angle narrative lens, but the script feels rushed.
Forty-five minutes doesn’t give Fellowes the time he needs to gives us more than a sociological birds-eye view of his characters. Their psychologies are sketched out at best, which makes it hard for us to really root for them when disaster strikes.
All this is particularly a shame as the two young lovers, Paolo Sandrini (Glen Blackhall) and Annie Desmond (Jenna-Louise Coleman), have a definite chemistry together and their situation is an interesting one. You almost believe the two of them could make a go of it as a couple.
But Titanic isn’t a novel and the audience needs to see more than one major scene of the two of them together to get a real insight into their courtship (even if that scene does contain a line from an ABBA song in it, ‘Take a chance on me’).
The scene in which Mary Maloney (Ruth Bradley) and Peter Lubov (Dragos Bucur) consummate their physical attraction in a kiss is even worse. The dialogue abandons all subtlety under the pressure of getting them to declare their attraction to each other before the ship hits the iceberg in less than a minute’s screen-time. Rushed rushed rushed.
It’s hard to not feel disappointed, as if anyone could take apart the world of the Titanic and display it in all its glittering injustice it would be the writer of Gosford Park.
Aired at 9pm on Sunday 8th April 2012 on ITV1.
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