On the freezing cold night of 14 April 1912, it took just 2 hours and 40 minutes for the ‘unsinkable’ RMS Titanic to disappear beneath the icy waves of the Atlantic Ocean. The famed – and now infamous – ocean liner was, at the time, the largest man-made moving object in the world, and was carrying 2,240 passengers and crew who ranged from wealthy holiday-makers to poor immigrants in search of a better life.
In spite of receiving several iceberg warnings, the Titanic’s captain Edward Smith continued to sail full-throttle into the night. This decision proved deadly: the mighty ship collided with an iceberg, which tore a hole into the hull, causing it to flood and sink. Around 1,500 people died in what was then the greatest loss of life from any peacetime shipwreck.
The disaster sent shockwaves around the world, and in the time since, the story of that fateful night has been immortalised via many documentaries, books, television shows and films.
Here’s our pick of 5 of the most significant films about the Titanic.
Saved from the Titanic
Released just 31 days after the disaster itself, Saved from the Titanic was written by real-life Titanic survivor, actor Dorothy Gibson, who was one of 28 people aboard the first lifeboat launched from the ship. It is the earliest dramatisation of the tragedy, with the silent film revolving around Gibson’s own dramatised experience of the tragedy. The film was released internationally and attracted large audiences and positive news, though many criticised it for financially capitalising upon such a recent tragedy. Unfortunately, the last known copies of the film were destroyed in a fire in 1914.
Though widely regarded to be full of historical inaccuracies, this production was the first Hollywood treatment of the disaster, featuring stars such as Clifton Webb, Barbara Stanwyck and Robert Wagner in a fictionalised romantic drama. The story revolves around two young lovers who meet on the Titanic and fall in love, which provided a blueprint for James Cameron’s later 1997 epic. The film was celebrated for its lavish production values and poignant depiction of the disaster.
A Night to Remember
This was the earliest attempt at a historically accurate recounting of the night of the disaster, and is based upon a 1955 book of the same name by Walter Lord. A docudrama, it paid significant attention to detail, using blueprints of the ship to create authentic sets and employing Titanic workers such as Fourth Officer Joseph Boxhall and ex-Cunard Commodore Harry Grattidge as technical advisors on the film. Though the film performed poorly at the box office, it received critical acclaim and is widely considered to be the most accurate dramatised film about Titanic thus far.
James Cameron’s Titanic had emerged triumphant from a production beleaguered by chaotic logistics, spiralling costs, and an often openly outraged cast and crew. It scooped the largest clutch of Academy Awards since Ben Hur and was the first film to make $1 billion at the box office.
From a purely technical perspective, Titanic is an incredible achievement (textbook Cameron), but over and above the visual spectacle, the film manages to empathetically tell the story of the real life disaster through two fantastically cast leads and an accomplished supporting cast. It’s an emotional triumph as much as it is a technical one, which honours the real life victims of the tragedy.
A four-part television series written by Julian Fellowes to mark the 100th anniversary of the disaster, this star-studded period drama features more than 89 characters to specifically tell the story of the whole social strata of passengers aboard the ship, from upper-class English and American families to third-class Irish and Italian passengers. Though the series didn’t have a budget on the scale of James Cameron’s famous film, this drama is thought to be a much more faithful depiction of the events of the tragedy, and was widely praised by critics and audiences alike.