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Tuesday 21 November 2017

Hidden heroes of the Titanic

saving the titanic (rte1) COMe dine with me ireland (tv3)

FEELING sick lately? Got a queasy, sinking sensation in the stomach? Me too. But don't worry, it's just the final stages of Titanicitis. It will pass soon -- next weekend, to be precise, when TV completes its commemoration of the 1912 disaster with the ceremonial scuttling of Julian Fellowes' floundering mini-series on ITV.

If you only planned to watch one more programme on the subject, Saving the Titanic was the one that stood above all others this week. Made on a budget of €1.6m -- which is tight yet still astronomical compared to that of last week's superb Waking the Titanic on TG4 -- producer Stephen Brooke and director Maurice Sweeney's feature-length film focused on a mostly overlooked angle: the battle below decks by the engineering and boiler-room crew to keep the electricity flowing and the ship afloat for as long as possible.

It's reckoned that their efforts added about 90 minutes, the precise length of the film, as it happens, to the life of the Titanic, thus saving hundreds of passengers.

This was very much the Das Boot take on the story, the disaster as seen from the inside and from the bottom up. The budget was well used to conjure up the dark, tense, claustrophobic interior of the ship's boiler and engine rooms, with their belching furnaces and whirring dynamos, which one character describes as being "like hell".

Passengers barely figured and the exterior of the ship was shown only in CGI long shots and in the intermittent documentary segments, narrated by Liam Cunningham, which filled us in on the Titanic's technology and why it failed.

Whenever blue sky was glimpsed, it was through the top of the dummy fourth funnel, which served as ventilation and an emergency escape route -- although not a single one of the engineering crew survived to use it.

You got the impression that the script, which was based on official transcripts and eye-witness accounts, took very few dramatic liberties, yet it did a deft job of evoking the simmering sectarian tensions between Catholic and Protestants in the fittingly overheated atmosphere.

The moment the ship struck the iceberg was well handled. The chilling sight of rivets shooting like bullets from the steel bulkhead as water burst its way through was more powerful than any number of complicated special effects.

It's often difficult in this type of fact-driven drama for actors to make an impression, but among a large cast of excellent Irish talent, David Wilmot as chief engineer Joseph Bell and Ciaran McMenamin as bolshie head fireman Frederick Barrett, who survived but resisted the White Star Line's attempts to co-opt him as a hero figure for its own cynical, damage-limitation purposes, stood out.

"Did you all know who I was, since I'm the host?" asked model Madeline Mulqueen of her four guests, Michael O'Doherty, Pippa O'Connor, Shane Byrne and Holly Sweeney -- she's Rory McElroy's ex, apparently -- in the first of the week's new Irish Come Dine with Me. Cue tumbleweeds rolling across the floor.

You have to wonder sometimes if most of the people who take part in CDWM ever actually watch the programme or have the faintest clue what they're letting themselves in for. (For the record, Madeline was the girl in the Rubber Bandits' Horse Outside video. So there.)

One who clearly does know the score is O'Doherty, publisher and columnist with the Herald, and he's intent on spreading as many crumbs of mischief as possible around the table over the next four nights. This is not bias, by the way; I've never met the man.

"Shane, your hair: what the f***?" he enquired of the owner of the most dangerous mullet in the country.

"If I had my way, I'd grow my hair down to my ass," replied a clearly miffed Shane.

"What, all two-and-a-half feet?"

Ouch! Great fun.



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