Wednesday 22 January 2020

Titanic Final Episode Review: Drama sank with a boatload of clichés

Benji Wilson reviews the finale of Titanic, Julian Fellowes's ITV1 drama, and finds it falls short

Benji Wilson

AT last we know what really sank the Titanic. Amid all of the critics’ ridicule and the plummeting ratings, few have noted that Julian Fellowes’s Titanic (ITV1, Sunday) actually offers an astonishing new theory. The Titanic was sunk, this series suggests, not by an iceberg, but by the sheer weight of clichés and leaden dramatic irony being lugged about like anvils by every sorry soul on board.

Take last night’s finale: if you’d put some of the phooey being spouted to music you would have been 90 per cent of the way to a Michael Bolton album. I caught, “Don’t talk as if this is goodbye,” “In a few days we’ll be in New York,” “We will meet again, soon,” and “Everything’s going to be alright,” at which point I dashed the good ship of my remote control against the unseen iceberg of my kneecap.

Given that we know that Julian Fellowes can whittle a line to a sharp point when he so desires, especially if it’s to go in Dame Maggie Smith’s mouth in Downton Abbey, dare one suggest that some of the dialogue here had been let through rather un-whittled? Could it be that Fellowes, in between cranking out 22 hours of Downton on his own and the many movie offers that have followed, may have overstretched himself a little? This Titanic retelling wasn’t his idea: the producers brought the much-criticised narrative structure, in which the boat has sunk at the end of every episode, to him flat-packed. Was he even really trying?

Theories, theories. It’s a pity really because if you can ignore some of the verbal cowpats (note: you can’t) then the series has got better as it’s gone along, in inverse proportion in fact to the volume of viewers jumping ship. Fellowes likes to work with a large ensemble of characters and let the audience latch on to their favourites. Not ideal when all of them bar the poshos (and who ever likes the poshos?) are probably going to drown. Then again there’s something about doomed love that makes it so much more appealing than love that just drones on indefinitely, like a static hum.

So yes, I did feel a heart string or two being gently thrummed as Annie the maid and Mario the waiter went their wet, wet ways, and I was touched, as ever, by Toby Jones’s performance as John Batley, the middling middle-class nearly man. But mostly, as the last gurgle of the disappearing hull was lapped up by the waves of whichever large swimming pool they filmed it in in Hungary, I felt relief. Which is surely the opposite of what the sinking of the Titanic is meant to make you feel.

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