It was large, grand and – with so many talented names on board – hyped up to be pretty much unsinkable, but ITV1’s Titanic, which launched so promisingly on a tide of nuanced dialogue and well-observed period detail, seems to have foundered on the iceberg of a fragmented and repetitive narrative.
Maybe it’s a case of too much too soon. In each episode it felt like the iceberg gate-crashed the party just when Fellowes’ multiple storylines were starting to warm up, bringing everything to a premature close. Then you had to begin again the following week with a new set of characters and a new angle on the making of the doomed ship.
Perhaps, if the Titanic hadn’t kept crashing into the iceberg, the climax of the first three episodes could have come from class or political conflict, making the characters’ stories more memorable.
Tonight’s finale saw more time given over to the disaster than in previous episodes and we finally learnt the fates of all the people we last saw in varying degrees of danger. Annie’s (Jenna-Louise Coleman) young Italian suitor Paolo (Glen Blackhall) dies quietly off-screen in what is perhaps the show’s saddest death, though that prize could also go to Jim Maloney (Peter McDonald) and his young daughter Theresa (Georgia McCutcheon). The Batley’s deaths floating side by side in the ocean are perhaps a bit less convincing.
A generous though acerbic writer, Fellowes shows how tragedy brings out both the best and worst in people. Lady Mounton (Geraldine Somerville) gets another chance to prove there’s more to her than just snobbishness and even incurable social climber Mrs Rushton (Celia Imrie) shows an improved dimension to her character when she rescues another woman’s dog.
On the other hand Mr Ismay (James Wilby) is revealed to be a bit of a chicken when he commits the social and moral no-no of jumping on a life boat before he’s got all the women and children off the ship – not that he was that nice to begin with.
There are some great shots, such as when the survivors in the life boats see the ship’s lights all cut out and then its silhouette rising up against the night sky before it sinks. The aftermath of the sinking is also gripping, with some of the life boats going back to look for survivors and some shrugging their metaphorical shoulders and hanging back.
As ever, when Fellowes allows himself the time to study groups of people he does it extremely well. It’s just a pity that for much of the four-part series the show’s structure didn’t allow this.
Aired at 9pm on Sunday 15th April 2012 on ITV1.
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