Titanic: Blood and Steel (2012)
I’ve been watching the twelve-part series Titanic: Blood and Steel for the first time this month; I don’t believe it ever aired on television in the UK. And I’m pleased to be ending Titanic Month on a high note, because unlike Julian Fellowes’ miniseries, Titanic: Blood and Steel is pretty damn good.
Rather than the disaster itself, this series covers relatively fresh territory: the construction of the Titanic, at Harland & Wolff in Belfast, from 1909 to her completion three years later. The main character is Dr Mark Muir (Kevin Zegers), a Belfast-born metallurgist who gets himself appointed to work on the Titanic. Throughout the course of the series, he has to deal with falling in love, a troubled past coming back to haunt him, disagreements over the ship’s design, and the vicious political and religious turmoil taking place in Belfast at the time.
So what is there to like about this series? Well, the music, for one thing: I liked the opening so much that I refrained from skipping it for almost every episode. It’s well-written, never dragging, and utilising its setting well to generate many different sources of conflict: the Titanic plays an important role, but there’s much more to the story than that. It provides a good sense of the community of 1910s Belfast, a highly charged and divided city that frequently feels like a time bomb. And none of the conflict feels forced, either: the problems that occur feel like natural escalations, such as Mark’s romance with Sofia Silvestri (Alessandra Mastronardi) running into difficulties because his thoughts are frequently elsewhere, rather than something more dramatic. Meanwhile, when it turns out that Mark’s father has kept a big, devastating secret from him, he is given an understandable and complex reason for doing so.
The characters are great, too: I watched each episode eager to find out about their problems and how they were going to address them. Most of the characters – including Mark and Sofia – are fictional; but there are some historical ones thrown in, from Harland & Wolff chairman Lord Pirrie (Derek Jacobi) to Thomas Andrews (Billy Carter), who begins the series as a little more snappish and unreasonable than in other productions, but gradually softens with time. The series effectively uses its female characters to explore the restrictions on women at the time, and their approaches to becoming more liberated: from Sofia seeking to better herself despite the objections of her more traditional father, to the privileged Kitty Carlton (Ophelia Lovibond) resignedly accepting her future while seeking a little illicit pleasure on the side.
The main problem I had with the series is that, once again, it takes a great many liberties with history. The supposed Titanic blueprints that we see are actually for the Lusitania, for some reason; and there is no mention of Alexander Carlisle, who played an important role in the ship’s design but left Harland & Wolff before her completion. The biggest inaccuracy is how much it skews the timeline with regards to the Titanic’s sister ship, Olympic. Yet again, Titanic is portrayed as one of a kind, the most magnificent ship ever, and is constructed alone on the slipway – Olympic is apparently already in service when the series begins. In real life, Olympic was constructed alongside Titanic, received more fanfare due to being the first of her class, and only entered service in June 1911, days after Titanic‘s hull was launched. In the series, she is never actually referred to as Titanic’s sister, even though in the one episode where Olympic makes a brief onscreen appearance, what we see looks pretty much like Titanic. The timeline of the series as a whole isn’t really clear: it took just over two years for Titanic’s main hull to be constructed before it was launched, but based on what the characters get up to, it doesn’t always seem like so much time has passed, though Titanic herself gradually takes shape from episode to episode. But such things are more forgivable when everything else is so good.
The final episode ends with the Titanic leaving Belfast for the first and last time, with most of the surviving characters sailing to America on her. While there are one or two subplots which don’t get a satisfactory resolution, it did at least feel pleasing to see the Titanic finally completed after twelve episodes – well, pleasing to a point, obviously. Watching the final shot of the ship steaming away, with a haunting Irish melody over the credits, I also felt truly sad to be saying goodbye to these characters, thinking about what they were in for – and that I wouldn’t get to know what happened to them on the night of the fourteenth of April. It’s possible to make educated guesses based on their traits and respective statuses: I certainly expect Mark’s chances of survival wouldn’t be high, as he would want to stay on the ship and do whatever he could to help.
Titanic: Blood and Steel is a really high-quality production that deserves more attention than it’s received, and if you get a chance, definitely check it out.