A Titanic triumph for drama which has more than a dash of Downton


A Titanic triumph for drama which has more than a dash of Downton

ITV’s new 11million drama chronicling the Titanic disaster will tell ‘the whole story’ for the first time, creator Julian Fellowes promised yesterday.

In a dig at James Cameron’s epic version of the tragedy – starring Kate Winslet – he said the 1996 film was just a ‘love story’ set against the backdrop of the ship’s sinking.

He insisted his Titanic – already dubbed Downton on Sea because it follows the screenwriter’s formula of interweaving the lives of the upper and lower classes – would lay bare the reality of what it was like for everyone on the liner.

Downton Abbey creator Julian Fellowes wants to tell the stories of the 'forgotten' people on board the Titanic

Downton Abbey creator Julian Fellowes wants to tell the stories of the 'forgotten' people on board the Titanic

Speaking at the launch of the drama
at the London Film Museum, he said: ‘We, right from the start, set out
to tell the story of the whole ship.’

His four-part mini-series, to air
later this month, will mark the 100th anniversary of the disaster on
April 15, 1912 when some 1,500 lost their lives.

ITV has promised viewers will be taken on a ‘heart-wrenching journey through Titanic’s last hours’.

The drama was filmed in Hungary using a set with a 60-metre promenade
deck and a 50-metre lower deck. The ship was created with computer
graphics.

A ship with four funnels steams through the ocean in the dead of night. The lights on deck are blazing, while the band in the ballroom plays the Autumn Waltz. There is the tinkle of laughter, the clink of glasses, the glow of the suffocating confidence of the ruling classes. So far, so very familiar.

Down below, passengers in second and third class play cards and bicker in time-honoured tradition.

Even further down, grimy stokers feed the great, hungry engines as the ship thunders through the sea, making for the safe harbour of New York, for glory and for a place in the history books.

Ladies first: Countess of Manton (Geraldine Somerville) and daughter Georgiana (Perdita Weeks) wait to get into a lifeboat

Ladies first: Countess of Manton (Geraldine Somerville) and daughter Georgiana (Perdita Weeks) wait to get into a lifeboat

Once more, the Titanic is sailing to its doom. Some would say that to take on a true-life story which has been often told, with an ending that everyone knows, is a mark of creative folly.

Against the odds, however, creator
Nigel Stafford-Clark and writer Julian Fellowes have triumphed with this
four-part serial. This version begins with Hugh, Earl of Manton (Linus
Roache, who is excellent) fishing his feisty, headstrong daughter
Georgiana (Perdita Weeks) out of chokey after she was arrested in a
suffragette demonstration in London.

The
worried father uses his influence with Bruce Ismay (James Wilby), the
chairman of the White Star line, to obtain a last minute passage for his
family to keep Georgiana out of trouble.

The rising tide of disaster: Water engulfs the ship as it starts to sink in one dramatic scene

The rising tide of disaster: Water engulfs the ship as it starts to sink in one dramatic scene

Against the odds, however, creator Nigel Stafford-Clark and writer Julian Fellowes have triumphed with this four-part serial. This version begins with Hugh, Earl of Manton (Linus Roache, who is excellent) fishing his feisty, headstrong daughter Georgiana (Perdita Weeks) out of chokey after she was arrested in a suffragette demonstration in London.

The worried father uses his influence with Bruce Ismay (James Wilby), the chairman of the White Star line, to obtain a last minute passage for his family to keep Georgiana out of trouble.

The pathos of this, as with
absolutely everyone else who cheerfully boards the gleaming new ship, is
piercing. Soon we are introduced to the Earl’s wife, Louisa, Countess
of Manton.

To say that Louisa is a horror in a hooped skirt hardly does
her justice. She is a magnificent snob; a ghastly Anglo-Irish aristocrat
of such plutonium grade superciliousness that she even manages to be
elitist about her own origins. ‘I’m not Irish, not in that way,’ she
sniffs.

She makes Violet, the Dowager Countess of Grantham from Downton Abbey, look like a shy milkmaid in comparison.

Later, she even turns her nose up at a
place in the lifeboats when she sees who she has to sit next to. ‘You
can’t make me sit in a boat with a drunken prostitute,’ she cries in
horror. Even when death is staring her in the face, class and
appearances matter more to the countess.

Of course, Julian Fellowes’s keen and
deadly eye for the minutiae of class warfare and the telling detail of
social distinctions is matched only by the public appetite to consume
them.

To bolt his acute talents on to the
superstructure of something like Titanic is rather a stroke of genius.
All human life is here, on this maiden voyage to a kind of hell.

In
some respects, yes, there are moments when there is a whiff of Downton
at Sea about this Titanic. No bad thing! Yet this has something much
more; an epic sweep and an emotional intensity which makes it compelling
viewing.

Fellowes's take moves away from the romanticised version produced by James Cameron that starred Leonardo Di Caprio and Kate Winslet

Fellowes's take moves away from the romanticised version produced by James Cameron that starred Leonardo Di Caprio and Kate Winslet

It is beautifully filmed, too, with
characters that anchor into your heart from the very start. The
attention to detail is impressive, not to mention poignant.

Officers drink tea from cups
emblazoned with the White Star logo, lamplight glows on flower displays,
jewellery is packed away in little leather cases. All of it to end up
smashed to bits on the ocean floor.

The story of Titanic is everyone’s
story. There is something about the lone ship on the ink-black ocean,
coming to such terrible strife in the dead of night, which strikes deep
in all our souls.

Some of the characters in this new adaptation are fictional; most are based on real people.

Once more, we are asked to suspend
our disbelief as they embark on this trip of doom. From the comfort of
our homes, we know what happened. Yet those in peril on the sea on that
terrible night 100 years ago had no idea.

Julian Fellowes’s Titanic brings the tragedy back to haunt us all.