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Tales from the Tower (2001)
An odd collection of rather gory tales...
This 3-part documentary series about the history of the Tower of London is remarkable for its exclusion of perhaps the Tower's two most notorious chapters - the disappearance of King Edward V and his brother Richard, Duke of York (better known as "The Princes in the Tower") in around 1483 and the imprisonment and execution of Queen Anne Boleyn in 1536. A possible explanation may stem from the detail that HRH Prince Edward, the Duke of Wessex was an Executive Producer on the project. Interested students may recall that the present Royal family vetoed proposed DNA testing intended to establish the identity of remains found within the Tower precincts as those of the missing King and Duke. Nevertheless, the rather haphazard series of vignettes presented over the course of the series do include several well-dramatised and interesting stories about one-time residents of the Tower and those whose history is bound up with the structure. Most, of course, met a sticky end and this is not a series for the faint-hearted history buff. Examples include the portly Ranulf Flambard, duplicitous Geoffrey de Mandeville, Peasants' Revolt leader Wat Tyler, ill-fated Lady Jane Grey, Sir Anthony Babington and his fellow plotters, Protestant Pretender James Scott (the first Duke of Monmouth), fortunate rogue Colonel James Blood, the tyrannical Judge Jefferies, Henry Laurens, the only American ever imprisoned in the Tower and the hapless German dentist turned spy, Josef Jakobs, who was the last person executed at the Tower, on 15 August 1941.
The Unsinkable Titanic (2008)
Good information, but weirdly narrated...
The factual basis for this documentary is excellent. A coherent sequence of events contributing to the disaster is provided, and the involvement of the major protagonists in both the sinking and the subsequent inquiry portrayed competently through the use of actors.
The documentary's conclusion is that, in the absence of any one of several enumerated factors or events, the Titanic disaster could have been avoided or rendered far less severe in terms of loss of life.
Those factors and events, in the order given by the documentary's conclusion, include:
1. The fact that, in line with current British Board of Trade Regulations, only 16 lifeboats be installed on the ship, rather than the 48 recommended by Titanic's designer. This decision is primarily made on the basis of aesthetics.
2. The fact that the height of the Titanic's bulkheads was lowered during the design phase, resulting in the ship sinking faster than she otherwise would have.
3. The alteration by Captain E. Smith of the Titanic's heading before the vessel's route was sufficiently south to avoid the iceberg Titanic ultimately struck. This order was given despite Smith's awareness of several ice warnings received from nearby ships over the course of the day.
4. A wireless message warning of nearby ice was received mid-evening, but was delayed in being delivered to the bridge and no surviving officer reports having been aware of it. Some doubt exists that the message was ever in fact delivered to the bridge by the wireless operator, who was busy at the time in the lucrative business of relaying passenger messages to Cape Race.
5. A later warning of ice much closer to the Titanic's position was mistakenly given a non-urgent coding and was therefore effectively ignored by the Titanic's wireless operator.
6. A third ice warning, received from the Carpathian (the ship placed closest to Titanic during and immediately after the sinking) was interrupted and also ignored by the Titanic's wireless operator.
7. Immediately after attempting to send the aborted ice warning to the Titanic, the Carpathian's wireless operator turned that ship's wireless receiver off for the remainder of the night. As a result, the Carpathian heard none of the Titanic's distress calls, despite being close enough to have rescued the majority of the Titanic's passengers and crew before the sinking.
8. Due to an oversight, the Titanic's lookout crew did not have a set of binoculars available to them throughout the voyage. Lookout Fred Fleet testified that he believed that, aided by binoculars, he would have seen the iceberg significantly earlier, and thus given the ship a greater chance of avoiding a collision.
9. Fleet and his colleagues failed to alert the senior officers to the lack of binoculars during the voyage. It transpired that there was in fact a second set of binoculars available on the bridge which they may have used.
10. As a result of extreme weather patterns and the effects of the Gulf and Labrador currents, the iceberg struck by Titanic was significantly further south than could ever have been expected by the crew of the Titanic. Nevertheless, Titanic had received numerous warnings that there was in fact ice in the area of their projected path through the North Atlantic.
11. Finally, modern forensic metallurgical testing has proved that many the rivets used to secure Titanic's 1.5 inch-thick steel hull were made of inferior iron, rather than the stronger steel. In addition, the iron used in the rivets was of "class 3" iron, rather than the current (1910-1912) standard for ship building, "class 4". As a result, the Titanic's hull failed at a much lower stress than it would have had steel or higher-quality iron rivets been used.
Additional factors are also discussed but aren't specifically referred to in the documentary's conclusion. These include:
12. That Captain Smith chose to maintain the Titanic's high speed of 22 knots towards the known area of ice. Had he chosen to slow the ship, there may have been a greater chance of avoiding a collision with the iceberg altogether, or alternatively that collision may have been substantially less serious,thus slowing or avoiding altogether Titanic's sinking.
13. Murdoch, the officer in charge at the time of the collision, made the decision to put the ship's propellers in reverse and attempt to turn the ship to starboard, away from the looming iceberg. As a result, the Titanic collided with the iceberg as a glancing blow. Evidence from other iceberg collisions suggests that Titanic may well have survived a head-on collision with the iceberg without sinking. Alternatively, a head-on collision may have resulted in a slower flooding of Titanic's bulkheads, delaying the sinking to allow for rescue.
14. Second Officer Lightholler (the senior surviving officer from the Titanic) interpreted Captain Smith's order of "women and children first" into the lifeboats as excluding men altogether. As a result, several lifeboats were launched prior to being filled with passengers, simply because there were no more women or children immediately apparent to be loaded at the time of launch. Had Lightholler allowed male passengers to fill these lifeboats prior to launch, significantly more passengers and crew may have survived.
For me, the only element that detracted from this otherwise excellent documentary was the rather weird and halting delivery of the narrator. The end credits give the narrator's name as "Eric Meyers", but it seems quite clearly to be a female voice throughout the documentary. Her delivery seems either bored or tired and is not as fluent as one would normally expect from a professional narrator or following professional sound editing. At several stages of the documentary, she seems to stutter over words or passages. That said, the narration material seemed to be of a high quality to match the standard of the subject matter.