Like most people, I imagined that Julian Fellowes's crack at the most famous shipping disaster in history would be excellent. After the success of Downton Abbey in the same era, I didn't think it could go too wrong. However, Downton Abbey and Titanic are two very different animals and, while I came to enjoy three out of four episodes of the latter, I do have some opinions on why it wasn't entirely fantastic.
Firstly, while I understand that non-linearity was one way of making the Titanic story fresh and new, I have to say that hitting the iceberg four times took the spectacle out of it. I would've been happy with the rather remarkable moment when John Batley (Toby Jones) looked up and saw it towering over him. That was perhaps one of the most memorable moments of the entire series for me. While the non-linearity allowed for personalities to be gradually unveiled, and gave more of an opportunity in a single episode to explore just a few characters, it irritated me a little. I can't even say for definite why, just that it seemed to hinder the storytelling from my perspective rather than enhancing it.
Secondly, I came to the conclusion that episode one set things off on a bad note. I felt it focused too much on personalities that Fellowes enjoys writing about but who had very little substance to them. For instance, Lord Manton (Linus Roache) only became interesting when he asserted himself in the third and fourth episodes. His extra-marital dalliance was a neat little secret but badly used in my view, again this could be related to the non-linearity. The rigidity of first-class and the class differences is possibly what drew Fellowes to the Titanic story but I'm not sure he focused on the right people from the off. The characters that most interested me had their full stories told in later episodes. These were John and Muriel Batley (Maria Doyle Kennedy), Mabel Watson (Lyndsey Marshal) and Barnes (Lee Ross) and perhaps Jim Maloney (Peter McDonald), though without his wife in tow.
Thirdly, it relied too much on speedy romances. Paolo Sandrini (Glen Blackhall) proposing to Annie Desmond (Jenna-Louise Coleman) before the ship even hit the iceberg was a little mad, however intoxicating she was. Equally, in first-class, the romance between Georgiana Grex (Perdita Weeks) and Harry Widener (Noah Reid) was fairly unsubstantiated. And don't even get me started on the odd instant-attraction in steerage between Mary Maloney (Ruth Bradley) and Peter Lubov (Dragos Bucur)! One lesson from Downton Abbey is that Fellowes excels at lengthier love stories, these things need time to build. That's why Matthew and Mary are as popular as Anna and Bates: their stories both have a heart. What came across on Titanic is that Fellowes knew he had limited time to tell heartfelt stories and they suffered for it. The two that didn't? The marriage between John and Muriel Batley and the unspoken respect/love between Mabel and Barnes and both of these involved people who had long-standing relationships. Truly, I was moved to emotion by the conclusion of those two entanglements and no others.
I'm not trying to suggest there was nothing good about Titanic. It certainly picked up after the first episode and kept me guessing until the end about who the survivors would be. And I was in tears at the end of it. There was some excellent acting, some good writing (excluding the doom-mongering that you expect from a piece about the Titanic and also excluding the bad romances) and I think almost every character was put in peril only to be rescued from it. However, I feel the 'snapshot of life' was a bit cruel to the viewer: what happened next to the survivors? Actually, I'd better not ask that because I fear I'm better off not knowing.