2012 marked the centenary of the most infamous maritime disaster in history: the sinking of the state-of-the-art passenger liner RMS Titanic during its maiden voyage to New York, with the loss of over 1500 lives. The ‘unsinkable’ Titanic passed into legend as a symbol of man’s fallibility, inspiring a legion of disaster movies, documentaries and conspiracy theories – fuelled by the absence of substantial actuality footage of either the vessel itself or its terrible fate.
This collection explores film and TV responses to the event and to the fate of other British liners including the infamous Lusitania. Made in three languages, EA Dupont’s troubled epic Atlantic (1929) sank into obscurity, yet its spectacular sets and re-staging of the ship’s final moments give James Cameron a run for his money. Other rarities include an interview with a surviving Titanic crewman recorded in 1983, and stunning scenes of the construction of Titanic’s near-identical sister ship Olympic in Belfast – filmed in 1910 as her younger sibling took shape a few tantalising metres away.
Five to try
The Titanic Disaster (1912)
A flurry of newsreels were rushed into cinemas in the aftermath of the sinking, but relied heavily on footage of the Olympic; Gaumont’s version boasted a brief glimpse of the real Titanic in dock.
Coast Guard Explorers (1923)
Too late for Titanic, but these exclusive newsreel shots document the US attempt to chart the North Atlantic’s biggest icebergs.
S.O.S. Titanic (1979)
Look out for Helen Mirren as a plucky stewardess in this rarely seen feature, originally made for US television.
Lusitania: Murder on the Atlantic (1997)
John Hannah stars in this docu-drama unravelling conspiracy theories behind the sinking of the luxurious RMS Lusitania – torpedoed in 1915 with 1200 lives lost, to international outrage.
The Sinking of the Laconia (2011)
Alan Bleasdale’s gripping two-part drama based on the fate of another Cunard liner, RMS Laconia, attacked by a German U-boat in 1942.