With James Cameron giving his Oscar-grabbing 1997 blockbuster a 3D overhaul and Downton Abbey creator Julian Fellowes offering his version of events on ITV, you won’t be short of ways to mark the Titanic centenary this April.
But if you need another, you could do worse than revisiting Roy Ward Baker’s lucid reconstruction, which forsakes fictional embellishments in favour of documentary credibility and cold, hard facts. The coldest?
That on the night the RMS Titanic foundered in the North Atlantic at the cost of more than 1,500 lives, another vessel, the SS Californian, stood idly by within sight of the stricken ship ignoring its distress signals.
Using Walter Lord’s impeccably researched book as his guide, scripter Eric Ambler views this criminal apathy with the same understated stoic heroism as the doughty second officer who keeps his head in a crisis.
It’s left to us to get angry, our mounting dismay at the escalating tragedy made all the keener by the knowledge it could have so easily been averted. The emotion generated is no less restrained, rooted as it is in British reserve and stiff upper lips.
If anything, that makes it all the more potent, a father’s kiss on the head of his sleeping son as he lays him gently in a lifeboat prompting a lump in the throat of iceberg proportions. “This is most unfortunate, Captain!” sighs one passenger in a clipped exchange that may prompt sniggers today.
Oh well: better that than Leonardo DiCaprio doing a massive flob.