MOVIES YOU MAY HAVE SEEN
The oldest movie I have seen on this subject is the German wartime propaganda movie TITANIC (pronounced in German, T’tunnic) of 1943. My DVD has no English audio or subtitles, but I quickly spotted the story they were telling. In this version, White Star Line Chairman and Director, Bruce Ismay, is in command of the voyage and nothing is more important than setting a “world record”. A newspaper front page displays “26½ seemeilen” (26½ knots). You may already know, dear reader, that Titanic wasn’t capable of such speed (I talk further on this in SECTION I), but you may have been told that her Captain was, indeed, pushing for a “fast run”. (If so, why did he steam four days with only 24 of the 29 boilers lit?) Remember this—if Titanic was at all capable of a speed record, her identical twin sister Olympic would already have done it! They had identical machinery! For me, this movie possesses an historic charm.
The 1953 American movie TITANIC is not on my list of favourites and I do not own a copy. I found it rather dull.
A NIGHT TO REMEMBER of 1958, based on Walter Lord’s book of the same title, is considered by maritime historians and enthusiasts to be by far the most accurate of all the movies (notwithstanding the discovery in 1985 that the ship had broken in two at the surface). Most of the dialogue is taken straight from first-hand accounts and evidence. In the 1979 edition of Lawrence Beesley’s 1912 book, his daughter, Laurien Wade, writes:
“When the film A Night To Remember was being made at Pinewood Studios, he [Beesley—K Phillips] was retained as a special advisor. In a search for authenticity, the director even persuaded my father to sit in a caravan with a tape-recorder and try to reproduce the despairing cries which the survivors in the lifeboats heard as the Titanic went down. It is a curious and macabre thought that the cries my father recorded were then used as a basis for part of the film’s soundtrack.”
Another survivor who assisted in the making of this film was Titanic’s Fourth Officer, Joseph Boxhall.
Yes, we all know that White Star Line never “christened” their ships. The champagne bottle ceremony at the beginning of this movie used to annoy me—now I simply find it funny.
A NIGHT TO REMEMBER is the first movie in which an effort has been made to recreate the ship’s interior with any degree of accuracy (all previous movies have used the interiors of other ships) as well as the Boat Deck. Sadly, the elaborate candelabra in the First Class Reception is missing. Also, and probably as a way of illustrating the tilt of the ship (as opposed to simply tilting the camera), the light fixtures in the movie hang on their wires instead of being fixed directly to the ceiling. Thus we can see that the ship is actually listing.
In the late 70’s, SOS TITANIC aired on television and was later released on videocassette. It is the first of the movies to be in colour and that is the only nice thing I can say about it.
RAISE THE TITANIC of 1980 flopped. I have it in my collection for its historical significance. Firstly, it is the only movie ever made about bringing the ship to the surface (this was a wonderful dream when we all still thought it was in one piece). Secondly, I like the mention it gets in Robert Ballard’s 1987 book:
“As we neared Titanic Canyon, life on board the Knorr had settled into a fairly predictable routine. In contrast to Le Suroit, the atmosphere was informal and relaxed and meals were casual affairs. In their spare time, people were often seen reading the various Titanic books on board or watching one of two Titanic movies, A Night to Remember and Raise the Titanic, on the VCR.”
In 1996, another made-for-television movie went to air—THE TITANIC. It’s nearly three hours long and is quite silly. The blurb on the back of the DVD doesn’t help either—it starts, “The saga of H.M.S. Titanic…”. Of course, we all know it is “RMS”.
And that brings up an interesting question—what does “RMS” stand for? Most people (not maritime historians) will explain it incorrectly. On no Edwardian literature or advertisement will you see “Royal Mail Ship”. It was, in fact, “Royal Mail Steamer”. Photos of the twins (Olympic and Titanic) having their hulls built clearly show the signs that were erected in front of each ship in its slipway. The signs display,
ROYAL MAIL STEAMER
ROYAL MAIL STEAMER
(“RMS” became “Royal Mail Ship” when steamers no longer carried the mail.)
This movie presents another attempt to recreate the ship’s interior and Boat Deck. The First Class Reception receives a wacky redesign, but the basic style and finish is arguably acceptable. Also, the Boat Deck isn’t totally accurate but looks quite beautiful. The ‘side stories’ are mostly silly but the show has colourful charm—visually and metaphorically.
Finally, there is James Cameron’s TITANIC, arguably the silliest of them all. Most historians view this movie as a wasted opportunity. With all that money and all those beautiful computer-generated effects, Cameron spoiled his movie with infantile dialogue and the inclusion of—as ‘truths’—most of the myths, which had been well and truly exploded years before. Furthermore, the idea that in 1912, a young woman (rebellious or not) of lower-upper class—or even upper-middle class—would give a young man of any lower class the time of day is almost too ridiculous even for fiction. This movie is not in my collection.