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Titanic: Blood and Steel (2012)
A Shocking Distortion of the Historical Record
As a maritime and Titanic author and historian, I was quite interested to see this production, as it focused on the construction of the legendary liner and came at things from a unique perspective. Unfortunately, I am beyond disappointed (appalled would be a more apt word) by the historical errors that made their way into the miniseries.
I have been working my way through the 12-part miniseries, trying desperately not to shred the arms of my chair or grinding my teeth to powder in so doing. Although the production might be an enjoyable piece if it were purely fictional, the history of the Titanic became a tragic, jumbled mess in this production.
In some respects I found that it captured the period. However even there the effect was not complete; for example, the "jazz" music in the early-episode society scenes was about 10-15 years too premature, and that's something that anyone could get right.
Was it poor research that caused this historical monstrosity? Apparently not. Why? Because of how many little details they apparently had easy access to and saw fit to include in the production (i.e., the number of passengers on Olympic's crossing where she tangled with the Hawke, the design of the Great Gantry, the fact that the riveters were paid by the rivet, the way the rivet seals were tested, the name of the British Board of Trade inspector, etc.). Meanwhile, the production included an overwhelming number of serious historical errors, many of which were easier to "get right" than the aforementioned factoids.
Included in this list of grievous technical and historical mistakes are:
* The "fact" that J. P. Morgan bankrolled and exercised great influence in the design and construction of the vessels. White Star paid for the vessels, and Ismay and White Star, rather than Morgan directly, had primary influence in the design and construction; * The steel issues, which is an older theory which has really been addressed and is blown entirely out of proportion in this production; * The blueprints for the Titanic shown from the opening credits through every episode, and which are actually, in every instance I noticed, of the Lusitania; * The slip that the Titanic was built on in the show is actually Olympic's slip; * The "fact" that the Olympic/Hawke collision (September 20, 1911) took place long before the launch of the Titanic (May 31, 1911) (???!!!); * The term "unsinkable" (or "practically unsinkable") is dreamed up and applied primarily to Titanic by the fictional character after the collision with the Hawke, when in reality it was introduced by White Star publicity and period Trade journals such as The Shipbuilder during construction of the two liners, and was applied to both equally. (Coincidentally, the special number of The Shipbuilder in which the term appeared is seen in the series long before Muir supposedly dreamed up the term); * The damage to the Olympic appears on the forward-port quarter of the hull, rather than the aft-starboard quarter; * Ismay saying that the Titanic would be 'much larger' than the Olympic; * Ismay didn't even have a speaking part, I don't believe, until the third episode; * The timing of any discussion regarding the possibilities of a double hull would have been back around 1907-1908 and applied to both ships, and would not have been applied solely to Titanic after the collision between the Olympic and the Hawke (in the end, a double-bottom was adopted for each); * The complete out-of-character, irritated, gruff behavior of Thomas Andrews throughout much of the first half of the series; * The worries within the yard that Titanic was just "too big" (the Germans were already starting work on the Imperator, which was still larger); * BOT Inspector Francis Carruthers was on site virtually every day of construction, yet he is not seen - until what, the fifth episode? - when he is lethargically tapping a couple of rivets. The implication is that Carruthers and the BOT exercised no real authority or oversight during construction, when in reality the original documentation and correspondence shows that they did not always see 'eye-to-eye' and had to work together to reach satisfactory results for both; * The concept that Harland & Wolff paid an unusually small amount of money to laborers (for the period, mind you) or were extraordinarily ungenerous in paying out benefits to families of those who were injured or killed in their yard (again, for the period). The record of payout benefits given to injured workers or to the families of those killed during construction of the two ships is still available and is actually quite high for the period.
The list of egregious historical blunders just goes on and on. They are quite shocking in this series, especially since someone involved with the production/screenplay writing so clearly had access to little factoids that they saw fit to include. It was so badly done that I began to see in the fictional Muir character shades of the German Second Officer from the Nazi propaganda film, where he was the sole voice of reason warning everyone that the ship was doomed.
If one even bothers to watch this miniseries, don't take anything in it as fact unless it is checked against leading research on the subject. In my view, this was a completely missed opportunity.
Curiosity: What Sank Titanic? (2011)
One of the most frightfully inaccurate documentaries on the subject.
I was quite enthused to see this particular production, as it seemed to be coming at the story of the "Titanic" from a fresh direction. Sadly, as someone who has researched the history of this ship for thirty years, I was dumbfounded by the glaring historical errors it contained. Here are just a few of the mistakes I spotted, among many:
1. Thomas Andrews is reported to have told Captain Smith that the difference between "Titanic's" gross registered tonnage (46,329) and her displacement (52,310) as the '6,000 tons that keeps "Titanic" afloat.' This is a glaring technical error. GRT was actually a measurement of interior volume, not weight, and had nothing to do with the ship's flotation or balance. The two things are wholly unrelated.
2. Elizabeth Dowdell is portrayed as being in a bathtub at the time of the collision. According to her own accounts, she was in her cabin preparing for bed at the time. None of her accounts refer to being trapped under water; rather, she reached the deck without any serious incident and left in Boat No. 13.
3. Berthe Antonine Mayné (Madame de Villiers) left the ship in Boat No. 6. She was persuaded not to return to her cabin to retrieve her personal items by Margaret Brown.
4. The crewman stuck in the aft shaft tunnel. According to Greaser Frederick Scott, there was another greaser caught in the aft tunnel behind a watertight door. However, he did not mention that the man was injured in any way. There were escape hatches for the men to leave the shaft tunnels, should the doors have been closed with them inside. A second-hand newspaper account by Bedroom Steward Theissinger mentioned that "an engineer" had his leg caught in a watertight door in the Engine Room, and that he "begged to be shot to end his agony." Theissinger said: "His wish was complied with." However, the account is second-hand, and other details of Theissinger's account are suspect. There does not seem to be any supporting first-hand evidence of this entire storyline.
5. Water is portrayed as having reached C Deck far too early.
6. The ship's lights above the water were reported to have burned steadily, even under water. In this documentary, lights were portrayed as flickering and extinguishing even while above water.
7. Fourth Officer Boxhall is portrayed as sporting a full beard. He, Lightoller and Lowe were all clean-shaven; Third Officer Pitman sported a neatly trimmed mustache.
8. Bruce Ismay is portrayed as intimidating Captain Smith and Chief Engineer Bell into moving the ship forward after the collision. While the ship's engines were engaged again for a very short time, the evidence indicates that they were probably rung off for good by about the time that Ismay first arrived on the Bridge. Ismay never appears to have gone to the Engine Room, actually meeting bell at the top of the Grand Staircase. Also, there is no reason to think that Captain Smith moved the ship after the collision under Ismay's pressure.
9. Jack Thayer (John B. Thayer, Jr.) was not sharing a stateroom with his parents; they were in adjoining cabins. Jack had only just bid his mother good night, and had not yet climbed into bed at the time of the accident.
10. Fred Barrett clearly stated in his testimony at the British Inquiry that the actual stokehold of Boiler Room No. 5 was dry until the rush of water. This show gives the impression that No. 5 was partially flooded before the rush of water.
There are others, but even this short list should help to show that not everything (or perhaps even much) in this documentary should be believed without researching the matter further.
Now, a note about something interesting in the documentary: Someone portrayed First Officer Murdoch as ringing "Stop" on the Engine Room telegraphs during the evasive action. According to almost everyone except Fourth Officer Boxhall, this is the actual order he rang down on the telegraph at the time. At least this shows that someone was doing some digging on the matter.
In all, this documentary had many errors, and could have been much better. Very disappointing.