Titanic is a four part serial created by BAFTA-winning producer Nigel Stafford-Clark (Warriors; The Way We Live Now; Bleak House) and written by Oscar and Emmy winner Julian Fellowes (Gosford Park; Downton Abbey) to mark the hundredth anniversary of the world’s most famous maritime disaster in April 1912. It sets out to tell the story not just of a single ship, but of an entire society – one that was heading towards its own nemesis in the shape of the First World War as carelessly as Titanic towards the iceberg.
All human life is on Titanic as she sets out on her maiden voyage. The upper-class family with their suffragette daughter and their warring servants; the wealthy elite of American society; the Irish lawyer in Second Class with his embittered wife; the young cabin steward and the impetuous Italian waiter who falls for her; the Catholic engineer fleeing Belfast with his wife and family to escape the sectarian conflict; the mysterious stranger in Steerage fleeing who knows what. And then there are the officers and crew. As their stories interweave and we find our first impressions are often undermined by what we learn, there is one thing that we know for certain and they do not. That not all of them will survive.
Prologue. We briefly encounter a number of our characters, from all walks of life, as they ready themselves for their fateful voyage on the Titanic.
London, April 1912. Hugh, Earl of Manton uses his government connections to free his daughter Georgiana, who has been arrested in a suffragette demonstration. To keep her out of trouble, he also uses his influence with Bruce Ismay, chairman of the White Star Line, to obtain a passage for Georgiana on the maiden voyage of the new liner Titanic, accompanying Hugh and his wife Louisa to New York.
On the train to Southampton the Mantons encounter Irish lawyer John Batley, who works for Hugh’s law firm, and his wife Muriel. They will be travelling in Second Class. Hugh invites them to tea in First Class, although it’s clear that Anglo-Irish aristocrat Louisa and Muriel have taken an instant dislike to each other.
Southampton, Wednesday 10th April 1912. Amongst those boarding are young Italian crew members Paolo and Mario Sandrini and Irishman Jim Maloney, intent on smuggling his wife Mary and their children into a single steerage cabin to avoid them being split up. That evening the Mantons are served at dinner by Paolo, and joined at their table by Captain Smith and other First Class passengers, including the American multi-millionaire John Jacob Astor and his pregnant young wife, Sir Cosmo and Lady Duff Gordon, film star Dorothy Gibson and the nouveau riche Grace Rushton and her husband.
Meanwhile their servants, Barnes and Watson, are dining with the other First Class servants in their own dining room, served by the young cabin steward Annie Desmond. There is some friction between the English and American staff, and during some after-dinner horseplay started by Barnes, Watson’s book, a present from her father, is accidentally torn, much to her distress.
Georgiana is seated at dinner next to the wealthy young American Harry Widener. Later they dance to the popular Autumn Waltz, and despite their differences a mutual attraction is apparent. Jack Thayer, another young American, cuts in and later dances with Dorothy Gibson. When he is ignominiously summoned to bed by his mother, the charming Second Officer Lightoller saves Ms Gibson from any embarrassment by dancing with her himself. Paolo shares an illicit drink with his brother Mario, and narrowly avoids an altercation with the bullying Chief Stoker Billy Blake.
Sunday 14th April 1912. The Manton’s tea party is not a great success. Muriel asks a pointed question about Hugh’s position on the Irish Home Rule Bill, and the hostility between her and Louisa, coming as they do from opposite ends of the Irish social and political spectrum, could be cut with a knife. However the relationship between Harry and Georgiana is developing as they stroll together on the ship’s deck. Later that night the ship’s designer, Thomas Andrews, is playing cards when he feels a sudden impact. Together with Captain Smith he hurries to investigate. To their horror, a brush with an iceberg has torn a series of gashes in the side of the Titanic that stretch as far as the boiler rooms.
Sometime later, Hugh and Louisa are awoken by the absence of engine noise. Hugh encounters Lightoller, who advises him to get his family into their lifejackets and up on deck. As they make their way past a crowd of passengers fighting to extract their jewels from the Purser’s office, a chance remark of Louisa’s triggers a violent verbal assault from Muriel, infuriated by her patrician arrogance, in the midst of which Muriel implies that she knows a guilty secret about Hugh.
The steerage passengers are held below, including Jim and Mary Maloney and their children. On deck the loading of the lifeboats is not going smoothly. Lightoller rigorously enforces the rule of women and children only, and the boats are lowered less than full because of his concerns about their ability to support a full load without splitting whilst being winched down. Paolo and Annie, helping with the evacuation, try in vain to stop the Duff Gordons ordering their boat away with hardly anyone aboard. Grace Rushton refuses to enter a boat at all without her pet dog Suki. Young American mother Bessie Allison has lost her strangely possessive Nanny Alice and baby son Trevor.
The band leader recognises Georgiana from the dance, and offers to play her favourite tune, the Autumn Waltz. Georgiana spots Nanny Alice descending in a boat with baby Trevor. Louisa refuses to get into a boat with Dorothy Gibson, who is clutching a bottle of brandy. US multi-millionaire Benjamin Guggenheim, having seen off his French mistress, retires with his servant Giglio to the First Class saloon. Hugh and his family cannot find another boat with any spare places, and Hugh upbraids Lightoller for his loading policy, which he says will condemn hundreds of passengers to death. Harry and Georgiana share a brief moment together before he has to bid goodbye to his mother, who is in a boat with the Countess of Rothes and Molly Brown and is desperately anxious for her son.
Hugh finally locates one of the last of the boats, but Louisa will not leave without him. Georgiana is determined to stay with her parents, but Harry physically lifts her into the boat. As she cries out to her mother, and Hugh pleads with Louisa to save herself for his sake, Louisa is faced with an impossible choice…
Sunday, 25 March 2012, 9:00PM – 10:00PM