So Titanic crashed to a climax with its fourth and last episode. Tellingly, the "Previously on…" bit revealed about as much info as the previous three episodes combined, which could have saved us all a few hours. Anyway, here we were, the iceberg loomed, so how moving was the actual finale?
It opened with a beautiful shot of a packed, cheerful table, everyone scoffing fine-looking food and conspiring happily with one another. While this was obviously intended to make what followed extra poignant, it definitely made for a more appealing telly feast than all the fallings-out, inevitable class wars and intrigues we’d been served previously. If we could have started this far in, perhaps we would have, bizarrely, been more concerned for everyone's fates.
We got to see everyone again – Celia Imrie stealing the scene as before with her troubled class-conscious put-downs, and bolshy Georgiana and her American suitor reestablishing their romance and place as the Jack and Rose of this debacle... which could probably only end one way, let's face it. Stop looking so happy together, I wanted to shout.
The Irish engineer and wife had time to fall out again over her little indiscretion by the railing, and the Italian waiter got to enjoy a bit more romance with his spirited parlourmaid, before the inevitable shout of “Iceberg, right ahead” came… again. This whole repeat scene format was becoming a little tiring, so it was a relief to get into fresh narrative of the boat actually sinking.
From there, we had our fair share of heroics… lots of men telling their fair ladies, “Just think of me, promise me that” before getting fatally wet, fathers protecting daughters, and swarthy, untrusted foreigners proving to be good eggs after all when it came to ducking under the water and opening doors.
With the lack of care for characters, I was left admiring the production itself, and the effects were visceral enough to be sure, with people jumping, gasping for breath, struggling to swim, water bubbling over the lens all the while.
The actual, final sinking of the great ship was awe-inspiring enough, but even this luscious drama's budget couldn’t match James Cameron’s deep pockets. This relative parsimony meant we were treated to lots of shots of people staring at what Cameron previously actually showed us in his film... here, we only got reaction, not action.
And the strength and gravity of such an implied spectacle were completely undermined by a mis-timed, “There goes that beautiful nightdress you were so proud of….” from one pithy lady. Is that right, Mr Bond?
Then the random deaths/survivals started. Toby Jones wept while his wife wilted, but it could just as easily have been the other way round. Some were brave in the lifeboats, some weren’t. Somebody was revived with a strong drink. What new did we learn? That life, and death, can be horribly unfair, and it's best if you tell your loved ones how you feel about them, or, otherwise, find a will that you can read by candlelight in a lifeboat so you can discover you've just inherited a house?
All in all, a vaguely helpful dramatic backdrop to this week’s real-life memorials, but nothing like as moving or involving as watching one of the ceremonies attended by the actual descendants of the ship's passengers.
Speaking as a massive fan of Downton and Gosford Park, it seems to me that Julian Fellowes got caught out trying to reinvent the wheel, ie looking to fill the non-existent gaps between Cameron's exhaustive cinematic narrative - a futile exercise - and it's time he got back to dry land and wowed us once more with the material he has, justifiably, made his own. The last slide told us that, 100 years later, the Titanic disaster has not been forgotten. Something tells me this drama will have a slightly shorter shelf-life.
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