The trick to engaging a worldwide audience for Titanic, ABC’s miniseries premiering Saturday and concluding Sunday on the 100th anniversary of the ship’s sinking, is to go beyond the tragedy’s basics.
Everyone knows how a series of worst-case scenarios led to the sinking of what was supposedly the best and most luxurious ocean liner ever. The goal is to tell this story in a new way.
And Titanic succeeds terrifically. This isn’t trying to be James Cameron’s Titanic, the 1997 phenomenon that captured 11 Oscars. There have been so many films and documentaries, but this one stands apart.
Granted, the facts must stay the same, but what this production does is blend actual and fictional characters and show the disaster from different vantage points. It’s a masterful reimagining by writer Julian Fellowes (Academy Award for Gosford Park, Emmy for Downton Abbey).
There was something about these people, so powerful and so rich and all of this, and yet everyone is powerless in the face of nature, says Fellowes, a Briton who grew up interested in the story.
Each of the four segments features the sinking, and the miniseries delves into who the passengers and crew were and how they interacted with one another when death was imminent.
I like the idea of sinking the Titanic every time, Fellowes says. Normally with a miniseries, you sit there for two, 2 1/2 hours and hit the Titanic.
Ideally, Fellowes wanted great actors to flesh out the characters but not stars whose presence would overshadow the story. The cast includes Linus Roache, Geraldine Somerville, Glen Blackhall and Antonio Magro. Roache, best known as ADA Michael Cutter on Law & Order, speaks in his natural British accent as Hugh, Earl of Manton.
Obviously, he is an aristocrat, part of an era before the fall of the British Empire, a couple of years away from the First World War, Roache says of his character.
It is very hard to relate to a man of that status, who had inherited wealth and a lifestyle led by society. He had responsibilities in life, but the way I felt what Julian captured, you got a sense of the man standing on all of that entitlement but very progressive in his thinking.
The tragedy of the Titanic brought out the best in people more than the worst, Fellowes says.
When you read the accounts, the vast majority of them were incredibly brave, and I do find that very inspiring. I think it is sort of heartening.
The miniseries was shot over seven weeks in Budapest, and Fellowes was duly impressed by the set. First class is sumptuous; steerage is are bones. One of the largest water tanks in Europe was built for the movie, Roache notes.
It was pretty impressive working in Budapest, in the middle of summer, pretending to be on a ship in the middle of the Atlantic, about to hit an iceberg, and sweltering in the heat, Roache says. One of the most challenging acting challenges was how to look cold.