The Brit List: Titanic Disaster Still Captivates Audiences 100 Years Later

RMS Titanic departing Southampton, England on April 10, 1912 (Wikimedia Commons)

Plenty of ships have gone down but few continue to fascinate like the Titanic, which sank into the Atlantic a hundred years ago.

Near midnight on April 14, 1912, the luxury liner hit an iceberg while making its maiden crossing from Southampton, England to New York City. Within hours – it was now early on the 15th– the mighty ship disappeared beneath the ocean’s frigid waters.

Of its 2223 passengers and crew, 1517 perished, either drowning or freezing to death in the ocean. There were far too few lifeboats and the evacuation was poorly organized. Passengers in steerage, most of them trapped below decks, made up the majority of victims.

Here’s newsreel footage of the actual Titanic and some of its survivors:

To mark the anniversary of the maritime tragedy, James Cameron’s Oscar-winning 1997 drama, Titanic, has been re-released in a souped-up 3D version. This new, enhanced version is playing 2,600 movie theaters across North America, including 79 Imax theaters. During its original release, the film, which made stars of Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet, grossed a then record $1.8 billion worldwide. Here’s the movie’s best known scene:

Later this week, on the 14th and 15th, ABC will air a new miniseries, Titanic, written by Downton Abbey-creator Julian Fellowes. It tells the stories of both real persons and fictional characters aboard the vessel, and stars British actors Linus Roache and Toby Jones and Irish actress Maria Doyle Kennedy. The series is already airing in England.

Fans of Downtown Abbey will recall that, in the opening episode of the series, Fellowes killed off Lord Crawley’s cousin and heir by having them go down with the Titanic. Here’s the promo trailer for the ABC miniseries:

The ship’s tragic sinking has a long history of being used as fodder for movies, plays and novels. Within months of the original disaster, nickelodeons were screening a hastily made, 10-minute exploitation drama called Saved from the Titanic. In it, a young woman who survived the sinking recounts to her parents and fiancé, with flashbacks, how she managed to escape.

Here are several other notable efforts focusing on the doomed ship:

Cavalcade (1933)

This Oscar-winning drama, which told the story of several generations of an English family from 1899 to 1933 and was based on a play by Noel Coward, included a scene where happy newlyweds board a ship for their honeymoon. As they wave to their family, the shot widens to include a life preserver imprinted with the boat’s name, The Titanic.

Titanic (1953)

Barbara Stanwyck played a fictional woman who, unhappy in her stuffy marriage (to Clifton Webb), buys passage on the Titanic along with her two children. The tear-jerking drama, which also stars a hunky young Robert Wagner, won an Oscar for Best Screenplay. Here’s a clip:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GbPvsix9GjU

A Night to Remember (1958)

“Iceberg dead ahead, sir!” goes a key line. This is the British film that inspired Fellowes to write his own Titanic miniseries.  He has said that he saw this straightforward telling of the disaster story, which sticks to the facts (as they were known at the time) and forgoes filling the ship with fictional characters, as a boy and has been fascinated by the Titanic ever since. English stars Kenneth More and Honor Blackman starred, and the movie won a Golden Globe.

Titanic (1996)

A melodramatic TV miniseries that focused on fictional characters, this one starred Welsh-born Catherine Zeta-Jones as a wealthy, married woman who begins a shipboard affair aboard the doomed carrier with a former lover (Peter Gallagher). As the miniseries’ villain, Tim Curry did everything but stroke his mustache, and George C. Scott played the Titanic’s captain.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ah60aHBB9gk

Titanic.

This Tony-winning Broadway musical opened in 1997 and ran for 884 performances (and 27 previews). It starred stage regulars John Cunningham, Victoria Clark, Brian d’Arcy James (Smash) and Michael Cerveris. During previews, the show suffered from major technical problems, with the ship on stage refusing to sink. Much of the play’s success once it opened was credited to the cheerleading of Rosie O’Donnell, who promoted it frequently on her then popular daytime talk show.

—————————————

What’s your favorite Titanic movie or dramatization?

—————————————-