An Ocean of Memories: An Overview of Titanic in Film
The RMS Titanic has been portrayed on film several times and in different ways over the course of the last 100 years. Here’s a summary and review of the more significant ones that have helped to keep Titanic, her passengers and crew, and their legacies alive.
Saved From the Titanic (1912)
Believe it or not, but the first Titanic film was released just 29 days after the disaster. Entitled Saved From the Titanic, the Éclair Company production offered a dramatic retelling of the disaster featuring one of the Titanic’s survivors, Dorothy Gibson, a well-known actress of the day. Gibson also helped to write the script, which was based on her own personal experiences aboard the ship, and she wore the same clothes from that fateful night.
Giving an air of authenticity often missing from films of that era, Gibson’s story attracted audiences that could not get enough of the Titanic, and in effect, this was the pop culture obsession of its time. Unfortunately, this silent film has been presumably lost forever, and the only evidence of it is a few still images. Nevertheless, it was the first example of the new medium of motion picture being used to exploit the huge public interest in the Titanic, and there would be many more to come.
Night and Ice (1912)
Later that year, a German film named Night and Ice (In Nacht und Eis) was the first film to be set aboard the ship itself. Believed to have only ever been shown in Europe, it was only re-discovered in 1998 when a German collector found it in his vault. Looking at the film, it is typical of many others of that time in terms of its sensationalism in some areas, such as showing Captain E.J. Smith – inaccurately – expressing his shock and horror upon seeing the iceberg. However, it did capture the terror and drama of the story of Titanic and the souls who sailed aboard her.
For the Titanic aficionado such as yours truly, it was good to watch the scene of senior wireless (radio) operator Jack Phillips staying at his post to tap out distress signals to get the aid of other ships in the area, even as the water was surrounding his ankles (which also isn’t true since he would have been electrocuted with the water engulfing his equipment). The film also portrays the sinking has happening in during the day and the special effects were awfully crude, but given the limited technology at the time, that can be forgiven. The important thing is that it presented to audiences a look into what happened aboard, and they were spellbound.
Another film named Atlantis was released in 1913. In actuality, it was based, not on the Titanic disaster, but on a German book of the same name that was written in 1912, a month before the Titanic sank. But the sequence of events was so eerily similar, that a myth arose that it was the Titanic that provided the inspiration (and Norwegian authorities banned the film for that reason).
Produced in Denmark, it used a ship as the backdrop for a romantic tale, as well as to explore the class divisions aboard the ship, which was a microcosm of European society in that period. Aboard it sailing for America was a doctor with his mind fixated on two women: a wealthy actress in traveling in First Class, and a Third Class Russian immigrant girl (sound familiar?). So this film captured the personal struggles and vices of the characters within the greater context of the ship itself, and it is ultimately class that prevents the doctor from going further with the Russian girl.
But what really makes this film stand out is the realism on display, for a real ship was charted for the shipboard scenes, though a large-scale model was used for the dramatic sinking scenes. Indeed, the scale of the production was so large, that two assistant directors were required, which was unusual for the time, and – despite being showed to packed audiences – the film failed to make a return on its huge production costs.
The next major Titanic-related film would appear after the slaughter of the First World War and during the Roaring Twenties. Entitled Atlantic, the British-made film was adapted from an on-stage play by Ernest Raymond called The Berg.
The main plot centers around a man having a shipboard affair, which is discovered by his wife, but the film also used testimony combed from survivors of the Titanic. The Atlantic, like Titanic, was believed to be “unsinkable”, and is sailing across the North Atlantic from Britain to America at high speed, but then strikes an iceberg and is mortally wounded. Many aspects of the sinking were incorporated, which gave the film an authentic realism, although the style of dress and music would indicate that the story is set in the Jazz Age, as opposed to the Edwardian Era.
Nevertheless, it is notable for also featuring an elderly couple, the Rools, who are on their anniversary sailing, and as the ship is sinking, it is clear that there are not enough lifeboats for all aboard. The result is that only women and children are allowed aboard, and Mrs. Rool refuses to be separated from her husband, so they perish together.
There is no doubt that the Rools are based on Isidor and Ida Straus of the Titanic, a Jewish German-American couple and co-owners of Macy’s Department Store in New York. One survivor offered to ask an officer if Mr. Straus – owing to his advanced age – could have a place in a boat with Mrs. Straus, but he firmly rejected this on the grounds that he should not receive special treatment so long as there were still women and children aboard and would not go before the other men. The couple – married for over 40 years – elected to stay until the end.
Atlantic also displayed the sacrifices and heroism of the passengers and crew, as well as stoicism and complacency of rich and powerful men who believed that the ship would not founder. It also helped to firmly establish the legend that the hymn Nearer, My God, to Thee was the last song played by Titanic’s band as the ship went down and they with it. To this day, it’s not entirely sure what was played, but the hymn’s lyrics and tone were quite appropriate, and band leader Wallace Hartley is supposed to have selected it as a hymn of choice if he were ever on a sinking ship. Regardless of what they played, the members of the band are considered hero’s of the disaster for helping to calm passengers and ease the process of loading the lifeboats.
The 1929 film explored every known detail of Titanic, and in fact, was originally supposed to titled as such, but was renamed after threats of lawsuits and strongly worded condemnations from Titanic’s owner, the White Star Line, who was still operating Titanic’s identical older sister-ship, Olympic (and who in 1873, suffered the loss of one of its first vessels – named Atlantic.) They wanted the memory of Titanic to fade away, and so did many of the survivors, and the final scene showing the ship sliding beneath the waves was cut out of respect for them. Nevertheless, it proved to be popular, and is also notable for being the first Titanic-inspired film to incorporate the relatively new technology of sound.
Titanic’s next major appearance on the big screen occurred in 1943 during World War II in Germany, and this was the first film to be named “Titanic”. Ironically for a British ship, it was used as a vehicle for anti-British propaganda by the Third Reich, and was the idea of Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels himself, who also saw it as a lavish escape for German audiences during the war.
The central thrust of the film was its portrayal of the British as ostentatious, greedy, and materialistic capitalists. In particular, it is notable for being the first Titanic film to feature the White Star Line’s chairman and managing director, J. Bruce Ismay and showing him as desiring the ship to break a transatlantic speed record, with Captain Smith going along with the scheme to grab headlines and increase the value of White Star’s stock. It even purports that Ismay sweetened Smith’s appetite for speed by offering $5,000 if they make it to New York on time, and an additional $1,000 for each hour they arrive ahead of schedule (“The faster the ship, the bigger the bonus”).
Meanwhile, the Titanic’s fictitious and (conveniently) German first officer does not buy into the scheme, and warns Ismay and Smith of the ice warnings the ship was receiving over the wireless. When he announces that he has changed the course further south than normal (to avoid the ice) at reduced speed, he is chastised by Ismay, who arrogantly states that the Titanic is unsinkable and demands Captain Smith to return to the original course and speed. None of this was true on the actual Titanic, but hey, when you’re churning out propaganda against the greedy Brits, why let facts get in the way?
Eventually, the ship does hit an iceberg and starts to sink. Even in the now tragic circumstances, the Germans managed to take another swipe at the British character by claiming that Ismay cowardly demanded a place in one of the boats, and was offered one by the German first officer, so that he may live to justify his actions at the inquiry that was to come.
Nevertheless, the film did have its moments in accurately capturing the drama of the sinking as well as providing touching – if also fictional – moments such as the wireless operator taking his pet bird out of its cage and letting it fly free before the ship went under.
Unfortunately, the film’s director Herbet Selpin did not have much freedom to speak his mind, and when he made criticisms of the Nazi government, he was sent to a concentration camp where he was forced to hang himself. By the time his film was released, Allied bombing raids were destroying theaters across Nazi-occupied Europe, and the propaganda effect Goebbels wanted – the discrediting of British and American capitalists against the bravery and courage of Germans – failed to materialize.
After the war, in 1953 – 41 years after the sinking – Hollywood released its first feature-film about the ill-fated liner in the form of 20th Century Fox’s Titanic, starring Clifton Webb, Barbara Stanwyck, and Robert Wagner.
Once again, the actual ship is used as the lavish backdrop to a fictional tale – this time about a family in crisis. Webb and Stanwyck portray as Richard and Julia Sturges, an estranged couple who have different attitudes to life and their children. Julia is tired of hopping across Europe to be seen “here, there, and everywhere” and wants to return to a settled life in her hometown of Mackinac, Michigan, as opposed to her rootless and cosmopolitan husband.
She worries that their daughter is becoming an arrogant and snobbish elitist like her father, and attempts to take her and their son back against his wishes. Annette, the 18-year-old daughter, insists on returning to Europe with her father, and Julia agrees that she has the right to do so, but still wants to take custody of the 10-year old son Norman, who she is forced to reveal is not Richard’s, but from another man with whom she had a one-night stand. Richard is upset and brushes Norman off when he is asked to honor a previously scheduled shuffleboard game.
When the ship does hit the berg and Richard understands its fate, he assembles his family and gets them to the Boat Deck, where he tearfully reconciles with Julia. After being placed in a lifeboat with his mother and sister, Norman quietly slips out to find his “father”, and when they meet, Richard tells him that he’s been proud of him all his life. They join other passengers singing Nearer, My God, to Thee as the ship goes under.
This film is riddled with inaccuracies, the most glaring of which is that of the iceberg gashing the ship on its port (left) side, when in fact, the ship collided with the berg on its starboard (right) side. This is basic Titanic knowledge, and for the producers to make such a hideous mistake is astonishing on a scale as big as the ship itself. Furthermore, the frank drama and de-emphasis on the historical record drags this film down on the list of favorites for many Titanic buffs, including yours truly.
Like other films before, this movie merely uses the Titanic as a vehicle for a plot that has little to do with the ship itself. But it is redeemed by an evocative story that speaks of the importance of traditional values in a time of crisis, for the Sturges family is reconciled – however briefly – towards the end.
It also had light-hearted moments that revealed everyday life aboard the great vessel, and as it sinks, the film featured a cross-section of the behaviors of the passengers and crew. At one end was the cowardice of a social climber who disguises as a woman to get into the boats (based on one of the enduring myths of Titanic) to the heroism and selflessness of a defrocked Catholic priest who redeems himself by heading to the boiler rooms and comforting the crew members down there.
In addition, with the Korean War raging on, the specter of boys and men losing their lives on Titanic was particularly poignant. The film proved popular and successful, and won an Academy Award for Writing Original Screenplay (now known as Best Original Screenplay.
A Night to Remember
Two years after the release of Titanic, American author Walter Lord published A Night to Remember, a detailed and nonfictional retelling of the disaster. Lord had become fascinated with the Titanic ever since traveling aboard her nearly-identical sister ship Olympic in the 1920’s when he was a boy, and then spent about 20 years tracking down and interviewing 63 Titanic survivors, as well as compiling other survivor testimony. This was difficult because there was no survivors association or anything of that sort at the time, but the effort paid off as he became the first Titanic author to get the first-hand account of people who were aboard and could remember the events of that fateful night. The result was a book that quickly climbed to the top of the bestseller’s list, where it remained for months and proved that the true stories of the ship were far more vivid than anything Hollywood could imagine.
Across the Atlantic, the book captured the attention of British film producer William MacQuitty, who as a boy growing up in Belfast, had vivid memories of the launching of Titanic at the Harland & Woff shipyard in Northern Ireland. Along with director Roy Baker, MacQuitty set about bringing Lord’s story to film audiences. With a ready-made script on hand, MacQuitty wanted this film to focus on the actual events and people, and he brought on Lord as an advisor, as well as several Titanic survivors, to ensure that he stayed true to what happened that night.
This film was the first to use blueprints from the Titanic (as well as her sister ship Olympic) in order to re-create the ship as much as possible, which further increased the sense of accuracy, with the splendor and magnificence of the great liner on display. It did diverge from the book by having Second Officer Charles H. Lightoller – the senior-most officer to survive – as the lead character played by Kenneth More, but because there was no plot line revolving around Lightoller’s personal live or struggles, he merely functions as a focal point – sort of like a personal guide to whom we come back from time to time. The result is that the story moves around from place to place, so that it covers virtually every part of the ship and engages with every sort of passenger.
This film is also notable for being the first film to feature Titanic’s designer Thomas Andrews, who was aboard for the maiden voyage and gave Captain Smith the diagnosis of his ship’s fate – describing it as a “mathematical certainty.” Another person who made a significant appearance in this film was the feisty Denver millionairess Molly Brown – who more or less took over her lifeboat and organized the women into shifts for taking the oars and rowing the boat, and for this and other actions, became known to history as “The Unsinkable Molly Brown.”
Others included were the aforementioned Straus family, Colonel Archibald Gracie – who barely escaped from the ship and live to tell it, and Benjamin Guggenheim – who reportedly said that he and his man-servant had dressed in their best, and “were prepared to go down like gentlemen.” Also featured were the scenes of the Third Class passengers being forcibly locked out from access to the upper decks and the lifeboats.
The hymn Nearer, My God, to Thee is heard as the last song played by the band, but noticeably – at least for American audiences – it was played to the tune “Horbury”, which is usually used in the United Kingdom, as opposed to “Bethany”, which is used in the United States. Another notable aspect of the film was it featured a sequence of scenes aboard the Californian – the ship that was about 10-20 miles away from Titanic, but whose wireless operator had already gone off-duty – and the Carpathia, which was the closest ship in the area (at 58 miles away) and did come to rescue of Titanic’s survivors. It also tells the story of the radio operators that night, and their heroism in sending out distress messages up until they had no further power to do so.
In short, it was a film about the ship, the people aboard her, the events of that night, and the era she represented, which in many ways came to an end that night. Aboard one of the over-turned boats, Second Officer Lightoller remarks how safe he and everyone else thought the ship was, with it being the symbol of man’s conquest of nature, and but now having the feeling of never being sure again about anything.
The film was the most expensive one produced in Britain at the time, and proved to be a hit upon its release there in July 1958, but because there were no Hollywood actors, it did not feature in the States until December of that year after it had won a Golden Globe award. It helped to inspire a new generation of Titanic enthusiasts, who eventually went on to form the Titanic Historical Society in a few short years. To this day, this classic remains an awesome and epic docudrama, and is still considered the best and most accurate of all Titanic films.
Raise the Titanic!
Of all the Titanic films to date, probably none has been more maligned or ridiculed than this one. Adapted from the popular Clive Cussler novel of the same name, Raise the Titanic features the ship as the undersea tomb in which there is a fictional mineral more powerful than plutonium, and whoever gets to it first can develop a weapons system impenetrable to missiles.
In effect, it was a Cold War spy story in which the US and the Soviets are in a race to obtain the mineral. Eventually, the ship is raised to the surface and towed triumphantly into New York harbor 68 years behind schedule, but the mineral is nowhere to be found. Instead, it happens to be located in an English graveyard, and the salvagers – knowing this among themselves alone – decide to leave it, for fear of upsetting the status quo that keeps the peace between the West and the Communist bloc.
To be frankly honest, this film hardly anything to write home about, for it failed massively. It bore little resemblance to Cussler’s actual novel, after several rewrites of the screenplay via 17 different writers, which progressively removed elements that would have been familiar to fans of Dirk Pitt, the main character in this book, as well as other Cussler novels. Some of the more thrilling and adventurous scenes, as well as gritty characters were either watered down or eliminated entirely. It also cost an astronomical amount of money for the period ($40 million), which was spent on the largest model of Titanic ever constructed, as well as those screenwriters and a director who had no experience in feature-length films. Bad acting, undeveloped and mixed up dialogue, and half-done sequences also did in what could have been a blockbuster hit.
The only bright spots – if not redeeming qualities – in this film are the scenes of Titanic being raised and brought into New York – a dream for any Titanic enthusiast – and the music score by John Barry, the man behind the James Bond theme. There’s also the scene where one of Titanic’s surviving crew members (portrayed by Sir Alec Guinness) tells his story to Dirk Pitt, then gives him the flag of the White Star Line and requests that he raise it back in its rightful place on the Titanic’s flagpole. That, and Pitt’s honoring of the request, was very poignant.
However, the film received bad reviews from critics and became a box office bomb, having earned only $7 milion. Lord Lew Grade, who provided financing for the film, later quipped that it would have been cheaper to lower the Atlantic. In the end, it offended Cussler (to the point that only recently has he given consent to a novel of his being adapted for the big screen), his fans, and it also caught the cold drift from some Titanic enthusiasts because it really wasn’t even about Titanic.
Another film that causes some consternation within the Titanic community is the 1996 CBS miniseries Titanic. At four hours long (and broken into two 2-hour parts shown over two nights), the series stars Peter Gallagher, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Tim Curry, and George C. Scott as Captain Smith. The film focused on the intimate relationships between mostly fictional passengers, and followed along three main plot lines.
The first featured the Allison’s – a real family aboard the Titanic – who were traveling back home to Canada, along with a new nanny for their two children, Alice Cleaver. But even here, there are historical inaccuracies, for the film portrays Cleaver as being a woman who had murdered her own child, when in fact, it has always been established that the Alice Cleaver of the Titanic was different from the child murderer. It also shows Cleaver running out with the Allison’s younger child Trevor in a panic to reach the boats, when there are doubts to this account and the film makes other omissions that don’t do justice to the actual events. In the end, the Allison’s perish aboard the ship, but Cleaver makes it off with baby Trevor, who is given to the care of his uncle and aunt in New York.
Plot line #2 centers around a passenger named Isabella Paradine (Zeta-Jones) who is traveling home to America after attending a funeral in Britain. She rekindles a relationship with her former lover Wynn Park (Gallagher), which results in her sending a wireless message to her husband saying that they can no longer be together. When the ship is sinking and Isabella is forced to be separated from Wynn again, she confesses that the father of her daughter back home is actually his. Wynn does not survive, and fortunately for her, her wireless message was never delivered because of the sinking, so she is able to reunite with her family.
In Third Class, a thief named Jamie Perse steals a ticket to get aboard, where he encounters another – but more violent – thief, Simon Doonan (Curry), who plans to steal priceless valuables from First Class passengers. Perse falls in love with a Christian convert and missionary, Osa Ludvigsen, whom Doonan violates on the night of the sinking, and this causes the girl’s family to wrongfully accuse Perse of the crime. She herself loses her will to live as well as her faith, but Perse is able to secure her place on a lifeboat, which just happens to be same one Doonan has boarded disguised as a woman. When she realizes this and tries to make a move on him, he knocks her off the boat and attempts to hold the boat at gunpoint, but Fifth Officer Harold Lowe hits Doonan across the head, causing his neck to snap and he falls overboard. Eventually, Osa and Jamie – who accidentally falls into the one of the last boats – are reunited aboard the Carpathia and they decide to go on together.
This film is low on my personal ratings, not just because of the heavy portrayal of fictional characters at the expense of the actual story – especially immorality of what happens to Osa – but also because of the way it treats historical characters. George C. Scott did well as Captain Smith, but portraying him as getting angry at Bruce Ismay following the diagnosis of the ship’s fate goes against what was known that night. For that matter, it was entirely unforgivable that the film did not feature Thomas Andrews, especially for the diagnosis scene, which was presided over by Smith and the officers of the ship.
This miniseries also suffers from poor set design, with decks missing in certain areas and some basic detail not adhered to. Indeed, at almost every junction, one can tell this movie was done on the cheap, and with so many errors and inaccuracies – such as having the ship docked on the starboard side, when it was actually docked on the port side while in Southampton – the Titanic was not given the treatment it required.
However, I will give this film props for including – rather accurately – the stories of the Californian and the Carpathia, and the roles they played that night, the role of radio and the radio operators, as well as for being the first film to show the ship breaking in two as she sank (with this being the first major film since the discovery of the wreck in 1985).
Nearly 40 years after A Night to Remember sparked the modern era of Titanic interest and enthusiasm, director James Cameron created a film that would rival – if not entirely eclipse – the efforts of Walter Lord and William MacQuitty, and this would be the second 20th Century Fox Titanic film (though Paramount was brought in to make it a joint venture).
The plot begins with salvagers diving to the Titanic wreck (yes, that’s the real wreck in some of those scenes) attempting to find a long-lost diamond necklace known as the Heart of the Ocean (and no, it does not actually exist). They end up finding a drawing of a woman, which was done on the night of the sinking of Titanic, and when an elderly woman – Rose Calvert (Gloria Stuart) – informs the salvagers that she is the person in the drawing, she is flown out to the research vessel, where the salvagers led by Brock Lovett (Bill Paxton) hope to find out where the diamond is located to the best of her knowledge.
Instead, she regales them with her story of being aboard the ship. In 1912 as a 17 year old girl, then Rose DeWitt Bukater (Kate Winslet), she is being coerced into a marriage with a wealthy Philadelphia steel heir Cal Hockley (Billy Zane) in order to secure her and her mother’s (Frances Fisher) financial future. She is deeply unhappy, and attempts to commit suicide, only to be stopped by Jack Dawson (Leonardo DiCaprio), a Third Class passenger and amateur artist who won his ticket back to America in a lucky hand of poker.
Eventually, they fall in love as she sees that there is a life beyond the restraints of being a rich girl in the world of First Class. But after the ship hits the berg, Jack is framed for the theft of the diamond and taken below. Rose realizes that it’s not true, and risks her life to save his as the ship is sinking. They eventually make it to the Boat Deck, where Rose does board a boat, but without Jack. She gets off the boat to reunite with Jack at the Grand Staircase, but they are chased down the stairwell by a gun-wielding Cal into the flooding First Class Reception Room and Dining Room. They return to the top in time for the final plunge, and manage to make it to the tip of the stern (rear) of the ship – the spot where they met.
The ship goes under and Jack sacrifices his life to save hers, by allowing her to float on a piece of wreckage that cannot hold both of them, and he perishes due to exposure to the ice-cold water. She is eventually picked up in Lifeboat No. 14 by Fifth Officer Harold Lowe (Ioan Gruffudd), and boards the rescue ship Carpathia, and upon reaching New York, assumes the identity of Rose Dawson.
After telling her story (and giving the impression that the diamond is lost forever), old Rose walks to the back of the research ship to reveal that she had the object all along, and proceeds to dispose of it in the Atlantic. That night, she either dreams of going down to the Titanic or passes away in her sleep and her soul descends to the wreck, where she is reunited in the Grand Staircase with Jack and the 1,500 others who perished.
Like previous films before it, James Cameron’s Titanic used the ship as a backdrop for an epic love drama, but it was neatly balanced with the historical record of the actual ship herself and the real-life passengers who were aboard her. Indeed, there are parallels between A Night to Remember and Titanic, in that Second Officer Lightoller was used as a guide to the ship and a reference point for the film audience when the scenes come back to him in the former movie.
With Titanic, this was even more so with the character of Rose, who serves as our eyes and ears going all throughout the ship as she tells her story. In the course of their own fictional plot, Rose and her cohorts interact and meet with real characters and lead us into situations where we learn about the actual ship and the real stories and events of her passengers and crew, which end up affecting the fictional characters. They are in the action, bouncing around it, influencing it, being influenced by it, and engaging with it in a way that Titanic (1953) and Titanic (1996) had failed to do. One example of this was how Molly Brown – a historical character – helped Jack for the First Class dinner by lending him a tuxedo she had bought for her son, who was around the same age as Jack.
Another aspect of this film is its extensive recreation of the ship itself and many of her luxurious interiors. Virtually the entire exterior of the ship was built in an outdoor tank in Mexico, just south of California on the Baja Peninsula, which allowed the cast and crew to walk around as though they were aboard the real liner, and the front section of this set was hydraulically dropped into a 40-foot pit for the dramatic sinking scenes.
In addition, several interiors – including the iconic Grand Staircase – were built as full-sized sets in accordance to the original blueprints, and in some cases, the manufacturers who supplied materials such as carpeting to the real Titanic in 1912 also supplied the same materials for the film sets using the specifications they had kept in their archives for over 80 years. These sets, built so faithfully that they didn’t appear to be sets, were later destroyed as they too were lowered into other tanks (with real sea water pumped in from the Pacific Ocean) to simulate the actual sinking.
Where live-action shooting couldn’t be done, models and green screen sequences were used with extensive special and digital effects, some of which – such as digital water – were being used for the first time, and indeed, Titanic broke new ground in the film industry.
Casting was well-done too, with superb selections for storied and historic characters such as Captain Smith (Bernard Hill), Bruce Ismay (Jonathan Hyde), Thomas Andrews (Victor Garber), Molly Brown (Kathy Bates), and so many others whose roles were faithfully brought to life. Along with the fictional characters, they contributed mightily to taking us across the ship and telling its story, as well as their own.
As a person with an intense interest in the United Kingdom and the various Britons who live there, it is gratifying to see First Officer William Murdoch, a Scot, being portrayed by a Scot (Ewan Stewart), Fifth Officer Lowe, a Welshman, being played by Welsh actor Ioan Gruffudd – who bears a striking physical resemblance to the real Officer Lowe – and Canadian actor Victor Garber played Thomas Andrews in his native Northern Irish accent. This is significant because beforehand, these people were usually played by English actors without concern for the accent actually used by the real characters, which goes to show that Englishness alone is not Britishness.
The producers indeed went out of their way to ensure that the actors were people who could realistically and accurately portray the historical characters. On this point, Cameron used A Night to Remember as the inspiration for several of his own scenes – such as Andrews being seen in the smoking room and being asked if he will try to save himself, as well as Benjamin Guggenheim’s “prepared to go down like gentlemen” scene. Nearer, My God, to Thee is also played, albeit in the American version to the tune “Bethany”.
Of course, there are detractors who criticize the film for its acting, unrealistic plot, and its feature song My Heart Will Go On by Celine Dion. Some people seem to not like it just because it became so popular and successful, with 11 Academy Awards and becoming the highest-grossing film at the time. Within the Titanic community, there are those who cringe at the Jack-and-Rose story and are somewhat annoyed by people who still believe that they are real characters and that the Titanic revolved around them. For them, A Night to Remember will always be the definitive Titanic movie.
But what cannot be denied is that this film – with its extraordinary price tag of $200 million – sparked renewed interest in the Titanic from people such as yours truly, and I certainly believe that its historical inaccuracies are far limited compared to other films. I will even go so far as to say that aside from the fictional love story, this film is as historically accurate as, if not more than, A Night to Remember. Whatever inaccuracies there are can be more than forgiven for the film’s extensive, detailed, and faithful cinematic recreation of the great ship – which is not likely to be repeated.
By Earl Chatham