Caroline Frost
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Titanic Review: Julian Fellowes Signals An Iceberg Coming, With A Bell On It

Posted: 1/04/2012 23:40 Updated: 2/04/2012 00:02

Last week's debut episode was, as recorded, a damp squib - the question was whether Julian Fellowes' big-budget block-sinker would improve on second tasting.

Then, we were plunged - sorry! - into a plethora of fluffy hats, clinking glasses and snotty women gazing imperiously at each other over drinks with the captain. It was insufferable toffy-totty, and the sooner they were reduced in number the better, whichever way that occurred.

This second episode improved, in one sense. Fellowes eschewed his too-crowded narrative to concentrate on the lot of one working man, engineer Jim Maloney, a Belfast Catholic who decided to try his luck in New York and hop on board, complete with wife and brood of six.

But this prompted the conversation with wifey along the lines of "Steerage?" "Can't be that bad, it's the Titanic." BONG! That'll be the first of a dozen or so harbingers of doom Fellowes threw in, just in case we didn't realise stakes were high.

This theme was continued in what could have been the interesting machinations of ship-building politics (yes, really). I can never resist a bit of Timothy West looking grim-faced, but when his Lord Pirrie pronounced "there won't be a fault, not on the Titanic," well... BONG!

Less than five minutes later, the pursers were even swapped - this is Jeffrey Archer territory, surely - leaving one man disappointed... for, you guessed it, being left behind on dry land. "My mother was so excited, sir." "Well, I hope one day she will forgive us." BONG BONG BONG! Okay. We. Get. It.

Titanic Episode 1 Review: A Damp Squib, Not Fellowes' Finest

There were some nice touches along the way. It's a tribute to the acting of Toby Jones that we started to care about his relationship with his wife, which seemed to improve in direct inverse proportion to the fortunes of the ship.

And, downstairs I quite enjoyed the enigmatic stranger with the dodgy accent, first causing such unease to John Maloney's wife, and then saving her and the aforementioned Oirish brood with a well-placed punch to the chin of the guard attempting to keep poor people out of lifeboats.

Oh, meanwhile, the iceberg turned up. Last week, it looked like a big cloud of candy floss parked in the sea, this week it lurked into view like something out of Jurassic Park - I almost expected it to sport a gigantic eyeball.

But where was the shock? The gradually increasing peril on which our interest and involvement depended? Any sheer disbelief on anyone's part? From the moment the water hit, we were straight into discussions about volume, capacities, lifeboats and length of time before we sank. If only we'd had the binoculars, which we'd learned earlier were nowhere to be found (that was another bong, by the way).

So, if last week's problem was the sheer number of characters we were told to care about, this week's obstacle was the relentless doom-riddled meaningfulness attached to every other remark.

Plus, through his very focus on the random nature of fate (see bongs one through five above), Fellowes has sadly undermined his narrative authority, because none of his characters, however richly he paints them, will have an ending - be it sink or swim - that has any message or meaning that will outlive the final credits. We're already halfway through Titanic, and the best bits are still the frisky encounters between pursers and parlour-maids. I just wish we had a bit more time to enjoy them, and a bit more reason to care.

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