Julian Fellowes's Titanic sinks too early and too often

Mar 26, 2012

'Drownton Abbey' feels familiar but it isn't Sunday night comfort-viewing, say critics


FOLLOWING the runaway success of his costume drama Downton Abbey, Julian Fellowes's £11m recreation of Titanic has been hotly anticipated. In an unusual retelling, the ship sinks at the end of each episode, showing the tragedy from different perspectives over the four-part series.

The first episode, which focused on the upper class passengers, aired on ITV last night – but critics seemed unsure whether the series opener ruled the airwaves or was merely a damp squib.

Viewers won't have been surprised to discover that Fellowes's preoccupation with social class carries over into his new series, says Tom Sutcliffe in The Independent. "It has miraculously speedy romances, villainous plutocrats and relishable moments of Edwardian stiff upper lip."

Names and characters echo those of Downton, notes Catherine Ostler in the Daily Mail. The Earl of Grantham and his valet Bates are replaced by the Earl of Manton with his valet Barnes, and Titanic's Lady Georgiana is "highly reminiscent" of Downton's Lady Sybil.

But while Downton Abbey was "Sunday night comfort viewing", Titanic is "altogether darker, angrier and more explosive".

Ostler describes the idea to sink the ship in each episode as "ambitious" but others have complained there is not enough time for characters to develop.

"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," complains Louisa Mellor for Den of Geek.

The Daily Telegraph's Sarah Crompton feels the same: "No sooner were they on board and eating scones or sipping whisky than they were rushing towards the lifeboats."

She adds that this causes another major problem: "what might be called the 'Have you met Mr Guggenheim, he's an American billionaire' type of dialogue, or the need to convey everything about a character in a single sentence."

This, and the characters explaining the situation over and over rather than showing it to the audience through clever dialogue, obscures Titanic's better qualities, such as the handsome setting and efficient acting, says Crompton.

Jim Shelley in the Mirror, who calls the show 'Drownton Abbey', says that with the iceberg sighted within half-an-hour of the start of the first episode, "the danger was that the series' big moment was a damp squib".

It didn't get any better from there. "The 'panic-ridden' crowd scenes were choreographed in a way even Hollywood would have rejected as boring," Shelley says, while the historical references were "wedged in with all the subtlety of a crowbar".

Crompton describes the iceberg collision – represented by a bit of water in the engine room – and the subsequent chaos as "curiously undramatic".

"There was both too much and too little to concentrate on, and no-one to care about," she says and admits that if she were forced to judge Titanic on this one episode alone, she would call it "a damp squib".

But there is hope among the wreckage. Crompton has seen part two and says: "I can assure you it gets better."

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