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Monday, 23 April 2012

Classic Film Review: A Night To Remember (1958)

Like many in recent weeks, I've been saturated with fiction and fact surrounding the sinking of the Titanic as we hit the centenary. I reviewed Julian Fellowes's mini-series last week (not entirely positively) and I've also re-watched two other adaptations of the story. I'd never seen A Night To Remember though, despite it being widely regarded as the most factual adaptation out there. Certainly, it came across that way.

Stripped down to the bare details about the sinking, there are a few characters highlighted but the focus is well and truly on the events of the sinking - as they were then known. The person who has the most to do is Second Officer Charles Lightholler (played by Kenneth More) and he serves as an anchor (pardon the pun) throughout. The film has the feel of a thoroughly British one - this comes through with almost every scene - and portrays the sinking in a very British stiff-upper-lip manner. That doesn't mean it lacks drama, however, because the events of 1912 are dramatic enough not to need elaboration. But the drama is based on the sheer horror of over 1500 people dying at sea, not on the fates of one or two characters.

Of course, the effects of the sinking are not as good as the 1997 film but the claustrophobic scenario of being on a sinking ship remains. There are some good artistic touches throughout - the drunk who manages to survive being one of them - and the realism is there. Some of the dialogue is clunky and perhaps too much time is spent on the 'ship that never answered' across the water. However, since that was always one of the most intriguing aspects of the Titanic disaster for me, I didn't mind it so much. The scenes on the Carpathia as they sped to the rescue were excellent and intertwined well. Equally, the focus on the engine room and the Marconi room were woven into the narrative and gave the best example I've seen of the cross-section of class and crew.

The lack of fictional sub-plots do make this one difficult to cling onto at times. Still, it's worth a watch to see the story done without melodrama and sentimentality.

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