This review contains spoilers.
After seeing the first episode, we can now comfortably assume no Kraken, psychic space squid or warrior princesses will be popping up in Julian Fellowes’ new four-part Titanic series, so why the review on Den of Geek? Well, we have it on good authority (that of Outcasts creator Ben Richards to be precise) that there are no geeks like Titanic geeks, hence our taking a look at the Sunday night drama.
If that’s not good enough qualification for you, then who should pop up in the Titanic cast but new Doctor Who companion Jenna-Louise Coleman, whose appearance means we can treat the review as Who-related research if that helps. Coleman plays a pretty maid who slips in and out of the ship’s first-class cabins maintaining fresh-faced chirpiness in the face of both cocky Italians and ladies in extraordinarily large hats. She’ll be able to cope with the TARDIS no problem.
Speaking of extraordinarily large hats, we now know that the iceberg must only have been half the story; the weight of the marvellously sized headwear sported by the ladies of first class must have played a part at least in why the Titanic went down.
The weight of dramatic irony in the script is responsible for at least half of why the first episode of this new drama sinks. Characters from steerage to the captain’s table spend the first half hour going merrily around the Titanic taunting the gods of fate with lines like “We can’t be in any real danger, not on this ship” and “Nobody’s going anywhere near the water, to be sure” (lots of them are Irish, you see). It’s enough to have you wishing the iceberg would turn up sooner.
This opening episode introduces the Earl and Countess of Manton (Linus Roache and Geraldine Somerville), he a philandering nobleman, she an insufferable snob, and their daughter Lady Georgiana (Perdita Weeks). Lady G is about the closest thing Titanic has thus far to a warrior princess, what with her suffragettism and love of “writers and rebels angry at their fellow-man’s injustices”, though even she soon drops the sisterhood in favour of a quick fumble with a wealthy American whom she all-of-a-sudden can’t live without once the water level starts rising.
The water level seems to rise rather speedily for a four part drama (the first cry of “We’ve hit an iceberg” happens just half an hour in), until Fellowes’ multi-perspective conceit is revealed. Next week the clock rewinds for us to watch the same period focusing on the background characters of this week’s instalment. In episode two, we presume, the snobby Countess will just be a member of the supporting cast, a wonderfully large hat hovering around in the back of the shot like a crinoline UFO…
The early-stage problem with this potentially interesting way of telling the story is that we’ve scarcely had time to say ‘How d’you do’ to any of the characters before we’re asked to care whether they meet a muddy death or not. Call me cold-hearted, but save the charms of The Catherine Tate Show’s Lee Ross, the always-great Toby Jones, and – at a push – Big Suze, I wasn’t much fussed if any of this week’s lot made it.
Fellowes’ characters, so far, are thinly drawn and too frequently mouthpieces for his chosen theme: national prejudice and class tensions. I’m not asking for mumblecore realism, but listening to Toby Jones’ character’s wife (Maria Doyle Kennedy) give stagey speeches about Anglo-Irish relations while she’s putting on her earrings is more distancing than engaging.
One positive is that the CG ship was rendered nicely enough, and won’t be shown up too greatly by the tarted-up 3D version of the James Cameron film come release date.
The galloping pace is a necessary evil – not all dramas can afford to move at Mad Men’s glacial creep – and the show has set itself a deadline by timing its final episode to go out exactly on the 100 year anniversary of the ship sinking, but I found myself wanting either a lot more Titanic, or none at all. For a sea-faring series, this opening episode was altogether too dry.