Sunday, February 26, 2012

“This Is ‘Titanic.’ She’s Safer Than Dry Land.”

British television network ITV, which has enjoyed great success over the last couple of years with its elegant, often moving costume drama Downton Abbey--and recently announced that it will resurrect its long-running World War II-era mystery, Foyle’s War, in 2013--plans to reward viewers with yet another historical production. This one is timed to the centennial of a tragedy: the sinking of the RMS Titanic on April, 15, 1912, which caused the deaths of more than 1,500 people.

Julian Fellowes, who writes Downton Abbey--the plot of which actually kicked off with the Titanic disaster--also composed ITV’s four-hour miniseries, simply titled Titanic, which is scheduled to show in the UK in April. “Like Downton,” reports TV Guide’s Michael Schneider, “Fellowes’ take on the Titanic will focus on the divide between the upper and lower classes as he looks at the doomed ship’s final hours.” Fellowes says that his screenplay presents the “world before the First World War in miniature--so secure, calm and proud. The Titanic was an extraordinary encapsulation of that world ... that was about to hit the iceberg from which so much change would come.” A note on the ITV Studios Web site offers somewhat more of the plot:
Titanic follows four separate, yet intertwined, narratives building to a dramatic climax. With different lives united by a single horrifying event, the stories elegantly illustrate the contrast from the finery and opulence of first-class passengers to the behind the scenes work and toil of the underprivileged. As the story unfolds, we gain a captivating insight into the world of 1912 and the tragic events leading up to their icy deaths.
Included among this epic’s cast are Linus Roache (Law & Order), Geraldine Somerville (who also appeared in Fellowes’ 2001 mystery-comedy film, Gosford Park), David Calder, Toby Jones, Perdita Weeks, James Wilby, and Maria Doyle Kennedy (who played the detestable--and late--Vera Bates on Downton Abbey).

It’s inevitable that this Titanic miniseries will be compared with director James Cameron’s multiple-Oscar-winning, 1997 film of the same name. However, The Guardian quotes Fellowes as saying that--lacking the big-scale special effects Cameron was able to bring to his own, 194-minute production--this four-hour TV drama will be “a more human look at the picture. One of the great advantages of television is that you have much more time. You can develop these other characters that would probably be [condensed] ... and discarded if you were having to fit into the 100-minute format.” Viewers, he adds, will see “bravery, courage, and bad behavior” exhibited by the ship’s diverse complement of crew and travelers: “Some people are tremendously heroic and some people are not. That was as true in first [class] as in second, as in steerage.”

So all of that’s the good news. Here’s the potentially bad news: Although UK audiences can look forward confidently to this miniseries airing in association with the upcoming anniversary of the White Star liner’s foundering, American fans of Downton Abbey are still waiting to hear whether they’ll be offered Titanic in April, as well. “[A]t press time,” writes TV Guide’s Schneider, ABC-TV--which owns the U.S. rights to Fellowes’ project--“was still deciding whether to run the miniseries in April--and risk being drowned out by other anniversary events, including the re-release of James Cameron’s feature, in 3-D--or wait until May.”

For now, Americans will have to keep their fingers crossed for a simultaneous showing, and enjoy a couple of versions of a trailer for Fellowes’ four-hour drama that have appeared on YouTube:

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One more thing: Wikipedia’s entry on Fellowes’ miniseries points out that it is “one of two large-budget television dramas involving the Titanic to be released for the one-hundredth anniversary.” The other is Titanic: Blood and Steel, a 12-part BBC drama that StarPulse.com says “will chronicle the building of the Titanic, beginning [in] the early 1900s in Belfast and depicting how the ship was handmade in a city on the edge of revolution.” Actor Chris Noth (The Good Wife), who plays financier and banker J.P. Morgan in the series, told Irish newspapers not long ago that while “most dramas have all been about the sinking” in the north Atlantic, Titanic: Blood and Steel will be “about the birth of it [the ship], the promise before it. The expectation was so intense, of what it was and what it could be, [and] that promise was destroyed.”

If you’re looking for still more heart-wrenching re-creations of that 1912 nautical calamity, rest assured: there are plenty of options. As The Guardian observes, the Titanic “has been the subject of more than a dozen films.” One of those--CBS’s imperfect but still interesting 1996 made-for-TV picture, Titanic, starring Peter Gallagher, George C. Scott, and Catherine Zeta-Jones--has shown up recently on YouTube. Catch it before the YouTube police scrub it completely from the site. The first of what look to be 19 parts (yikes!) of that teleflick can be watched here.

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