Titanic: Blood & Steel - A Compelling 12-Part Miniseries

I’ve long been a fan of the Titanic saga, well before the 1997 film. I loved that one, but mainly for the stunning effects and James Horner’s magnificent score, not the badly written soap opera that took up over half of its running time. This week it returned to my attention, partly because in a few days the 107th anniversary of the disaster will arrive (April 15, though no one typically commemorates such an odd number) and partly because last week I re-watched a story of the Titanic on Blu-ray as one of the sources I used for a product review.

The latter however, wasn’t James Cameron’s flawed but still compelling epic. Instead, Titanic: Blood & Steel is a 12-part mini-series, released in 2012 (the 100th anniversary of the sinking), about the building of the ship. It doesn’t address the sinking at all. In fact, it ends just as the ship steams out of Belfast, where she was built (A ship is always a she, and as the narrative makes clear, she’s a ship, not a boat!)

But there’s a lot more here as well. The plot is heavy with the social issues in Northern Ireland at the time: the politics, the religious tensions, the fledging labor movement, and even the early stirrings of the IRA—the Irish Republican Army. It’s also filled with personal stories of many of the main characters. Yes, there’s a lot of soap here as well, though the soap is more interesting and complex than the saga of Jack and Rose.

Much liberty is taken with the facts, typical of historical epics. For example, there’s a great deal said here about the quality of the steel used. But the steel was typical of the best available at the time. And while the series isn’t even close to as R-rated as Game of Thrones, there is a bit of kanoodling here and there that would likely generate a PG-13 rating in a feature film. It’s also unlikely to be typical of the actions of well-raised young ladies in post-Victorian Ireland.

But while many of the characters and their personal stories here are fictional, many are real. These include Lord Pirie, head of the Harland and Wolff shipyard, Thomas Andrews, his nephew and second in command, Bruce Ismay, the head of the White Star line under which the Titanic would sail, J.P Morgan, the owner of who White Star, and labor organizer and agitator Jim Larkin.

The story is engaging. A look at the consumer ratings on Amazon will bring up a gaggle of low scores from those who were either bored (there are no explosions, the Avengers don’t make an appearance, the ship doesn’t sink, and there isn’t much blood) or put off by the historical inaccuracies. The ratings are, however, overwhelmingly positive. The performances are excellent, making the 1997 Titanic’s acting look sad (though much of the latter was captive to the often laughable dialog). Derek Jacobi, as Lord Pirie, deserves a special mention for his meatiest TV or movie roll since the 1976 mini-series I, Claudius.

The quality of the three-discs in the collection range from solid to superb. The video is consistently crisp and clear, my only reservation being that in a few scenes, including the launch, the flesh tones look oddly washed out. Apart from that, there’s much to savor. The series was shot largely in Serbia, which may have helped limit the cost (you’ll notice a lot of Serbian names in the production credits). The interiors designs are often lavish, and the depiction of the shipyard, with its gantries and crowds of workers, is consistently awesome. A special feature on disc 3 , while brief, depicts how the special effects were done, with many original shots shown first with a green-screen in the background, followed immediately by the same shot with the CGI laid into the space were the green-screen had been. On a 65-inch screen I was almost never aware of the artifice.

The audio here isn’t superhero spectacular, but it’s impressive in its own right. While the series is dialog-heavy, scenes in the shipyard are awash in the clanking, hissing, and general cacophony typical of heavy industry at work. The scene of Titanic’s launching is particularly impressive.

There’s also a terrific score by Italian composer Maurizio De Angelis, a composer previously unknown to me. A Google search, however, shows an extensive list of his film scores dating back to the 1970s, largely for Italian films and often created together with his brother Guido. The music over the opening and closing credits is particularly striking, with every downbeat punctuated by a dramatic and powerful bass drum.

I’ve had my copy of this series for several years, but the Blu-ray is still available from Amazon for under $20. Not bad for roughly 12 hours of solid viewing. It’s available for streaming as well, also on Amazon.

johnnydeagle's picture

The show is available on Amazon for $2.99 per episode, and is not free for prime members.

John Sully's picture

You can by all 12 shows for $6.99

johnnydeagle's picture

Good point!

barfle's picture

I’ve been a fan of Titanic movies since the old B&W movie. I just ordered my copy.

johnnydeagle's picture

I found Titanic: Blood and Steel free on the Tubi app, with commercials. I've begun watching it and it's excellent. The shows, Foyles War, Downton Abbey, and The Duchess of Duke Street, increased my interest in British shows, with the superb writing and acting. From what I've seen so far, I recommend Titanic: Blood and Steel also.

funambulistic's picture

Good find - thanks! I've watched a couple shows on Tubi and, though I like the service, the commercials are the worst. Now, I don't mind having commercials on a free service (you get what you pay for) but they are the same ones over and over and sometimes the same single commercial over and over on repeat!