By Tressa Eckermann, Senior Staff Writer
When it comes to Titanic, the first thing people our age usually think of is that floppy-haired dreamboat named Leo who would ultimately sweep Rose and every girl in the world off their feet in 1997.
We’re 15 years out from that famous James Cameron film, and on the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the RMS Titanic comes a new four-part mini-series from the BBC aired here on ABC. Created by Julian Fellowes, the “Titanic” mini-series is a sprawling story with a massive cast.
Its main story revolves around Hugh, Earl of Manton (Linus Roache), his arrogant wife, Louisa (Geraldine Somerville) and their rebellious, socially conscious daughter, Georgianna (Perdita Weeks). In second class is his lawyer John Batley (the always wonderful Toby Jones) and his bitter wife Muriel (Maria Doyle Kennedy).
We’re also shown the daily lives of the servants and maids. Annie Desmond (Jenna-Louise Coleman) is an Irish second class maid in love with Italian immigrant servant Paolo Sandrini (Glen Blackhall) who is on board with his brother, Mario (Antonio Magro). There is also the unhappy wife with four children, Mary Maloney (Ruth Bradley), and her husband, Jim (Peter McDonald), traveling in Third Class.
Much like Fellowes’ true masterpiece, “Downton Abbey,” the mini-series is a quieter drama about the people whose lives revolve around trivial things like class relations to larger, more pressing matters like uncertain futures in America. The first hour focuses mainly on the Earl of Manton and his family, who he gets booked on the ship last minute, and his dealings with Batley, who helped him hide a secret love child back in England. The ship hits an iceberg and Georgianna is put on a lifeboat, but the first episode ends with Lady Manton refusing to leave her husband’s side.
The second episode begins in March 1912 while the ship’s designers are fighting over how many lifeboats to put on the ship. Maloney is introduced, along with his wife, who is unsure of the move to America but consents. Paolo falls in love with Annie and again we see the ship hit the iceberg. The episode ends with the Batleys, the Earl of Manton and several other characters attempting to turn over a lifeboat as the ship fills with water. In the third episode, Paolo proposes to Annie and Mary escapes third class with her children, which leads into the fourth episode dealing with the characters fight for survival on the sinking ship and later, freezing waters.
Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the mini-series is its technique of basically starting the story over with each hour and telling the sinking from a new character’s perspective. But this unusual and interesting technique sacrifices something very key in the Titanic story. Ultimately, the sinking was really a human story-that’s why interest persists 100 years later. It’s a rare glimpse into the psyche of men and women thrust into a devastating tragedy. Because it skips around so much, that emotional sting is lost. The last hour, which focuses on this struggle, is the most compelling part of the mini-series.
The mini-series also has the benefit of being created by a wonderful story teller like Fellowes and acted by masterful British actors like Jones and Roache. Though it has its issues, the Titanic mini-series, which ended its two-night run Sunday and will soon be available on DVD, is compelling and very well made.