I just finished watching the twelve-hour miniseries Titanic: Blood & Steel. You can find my “official” review here, but because I’ve been DYING all week to talk about this series as it unfolded, I’m throwing out some extra comments that didn’t seem appropriate in a review setting. I’ve tried to avoid spoilers where I can.
The bottom line here is: Julian Fellowes, I love that you know your time periods so well as to explore them in-depth through the brilliant period authenticity of Downton Abbey, but you know that absolutely dreadful Titanic miniseries you wrote? This is what it should have been.
I’m afraid some gushing and complaining is forthcoming, but I do the former so rarely I feel justified in exceptions. I haven’t been this excited watching something in a long time. So I’ll cruise through and hit the highlights.
The Cast: an excellent bunch of actors, lorded over by the always-fabulous Derek Jacobi. His Lord Pirrie overshadows everyone else; I spend half my time wondering when we’d return to his presence. It helps that he has such a terrific character to play with — an open-minded businessman involved in politics, unafraid to deal with unions, and frustrated through his inability to control the actions of the Board. Oh, what I wouldn’t give for a sequel just to see him deal with the aftermath of the disaster.
Thomas Andrews: the brilliant mind behind the design of the ship, and one of the men that went down with her, leaving behind a grief-stricken wife and little girl in Belfast. Not only does the actor look like the historical figure, he plays out exactly as Thomas Andrews is described — a truly wonderful man. I wish more of the series had been about his home life, since we only ever got to see him at work. But the moment his nephew helped him launch the ship into the sea made my heart swell and then sink, it was such a beautiful scene in the face of impending disaster. Bloody good show of him, writers.
Irish Politics: granted, if you don’t have any idea what Ireland was like at the time, you might get lost amidst debates over “home rule,” but there’s a lot of political, religious, and personal tensions riding high in this series. From the conception of the Irish Republican Army to the outcome of local elections and the businessmen of Harland & Wolff being divided in their support for candidates, I thought it might trend dull… but it never does.
The Historical Figures: from union leaders to famous suffragettes to a young Winston Churchill, the constant references to or depictions of historical figures from the period had my history-loving heart jumping for joy. l may have even omitted little squeaks of utter delight at one point.
The Olympic: the sister ship who isn’t ever talked about, but was the “test” case for Titanic. I love that we get to watch the aftermath of her collision with another ship unfold. We get to see her in dry dock for repairs next to her “bigger little sister.” We get to hear Andrews talk about some of the redesigns he’s working on for the sister ships, based on the success or “wasted space” on the first ship… oh, for a history buff, it’s a dream come true.
Titanic: we get to see her from the rivets to the finished product, from the back-breaking iron work in the yard to the fight for more lifeboats. The CGI department is meticulous in making certain every external detail is perfect in the construction and deck progress. Plus, we see her launched… from the press junket, from beside Lord Pirrie, with Thomas Andrews, and finally, from the perspective of the kids on the street. My gosh, it’s glorious. I got freakin’ goosebumps!
I don’t know why some details of the plight of women would be right and in other regards, so terribly wrong. Writers of costume dramas, please reference Julian Fellowes’ works for examples on how to explore changing morality within the appropriate time periods. I may complain about his never-ending predictability, but he never (thus far) creates such magnificent bungles as you lot wandered into when you wrote up a load of immorality where it oughtn’t be. For future reference…
Unmarried pregnant women would not be working in a shop. They’d be scandalized, their reputation destroyed, and incapable of finding employment anywhere. No one would want to hire anyone of “loose” morals. They had two choices in the early 1900’s – become a prostitute or get married and move somewhere no one knows the truth about them. Neither they nor their family members would be welcome in polite society.
Women weren’t that “loose.” There are five female characters in this miniseries, and three of them openly engage in premarital sex. In a time when you reputation as a woman was everything, that’s ludicrous. Running away for a “romantic” weekend was not something commonly done in society, when even going for a walk without a chaperone could endanger the reputation (and future) of a young woman.
Public displays of affection… really? Everything was far more discreet in that era. Dancing was as intimate as it got in public! Certainly, no one would stand in a crowded street and swap spit.
Marc Meur: our sanctimonious, selfish hero. I liked him at first but as the series goes on, that changed. He became involved with Kitty for fun, without any concern for her reputation or marital future. He engaged in an ongoing intimate affair with Sofia, never mind her reputation or potential future if she should happen to get pregnant. The latter happens in the aftermath of him discovering similar behavior in the past led to someone’s death. Then, he has the gall to have moral objections to the behavior of Lord Pirrie when it comes to resolving the inquest? How dare he, considering he single-handedly caused all the problems being played out in the lives of everyone who interacts with him. (I’m not kidding. Think about all the anxiety in the entire series. It all goes back to Marc, from his father’s alcoholism to an incident in the stonemason’s shop.)
Despite my objections to the immorality played out here, the historian in me is pleased with this miniseries… pleased enough to watch it more than once. There probably won’t be a sequel but I can live with that, and imagine my own fates for each person involved.