You can be forgiven for rolling your eyes upon hearing that Encore — a movie channel best known as “the one that isn’t HBO, or Showtime, or Starz, or Cinemax” — is trying to get into the original programming game with a miniseries called Titanic: Blood and Steel. The 12-hour program premieres at 8 p.m.Monday and will air for two hours each night through Saturday, when it concludes with the legendary ship setting sail on its maiden voyage. (Everyone knows nothing interesting happens after that point.)
But though Titanic: Blood and Steel‘s very existence may seem unnecessary — especially so soon after Julian Fellowes’ ill-fated Titanic miniseries — the series itself doesn’t really invite a predictable, unflattering comparison to James Cameron’s canonical take on the Unsinkable Ship. Instead, Blood and Steel reminded me more of the drama that made Fellowes famous: Downton Abbey.
Unlike those earlier Titanic projects, this series focuses on the period when the ship was being built rather than what happened after it left Southhampton. And like Downton, it’s stuffed with multiple narratives depicting both aristocrats and laborers as they work, play, and face a manner of soap operatic contrivances. This miniseries’ Matthew Crawley is Mark Muir (Kevin Zegers, who played Damian on Gossip Girl), a forward-thinking metallurgist with dreamy eyes and a big, Don Draper-esque secret. Its Sybil is Sofia Silvestri (Alessandra Mastronardi), an Italian immigrant who finds herself drawn to the socialistic ideas of union leader Big Jim Larkin. And then there’s Chris Noth’s remarkable mustache as J.P. Morgan, a captain of industry who needs no introduction. (Mostly because he has no direct Downton equivalent, unless you count Shirley MacLaine’s millionairess.)
The show looks like it was expensive to make, and it boasts a few memorable characters — I’m thinking especially of snooty but lovable Kitty Carlton (Ophelia Lovibond, owner of the best name in entertainment this side of Benedict Cumberbatch). But in order to enjoy it, you’ll have to get past some clunky expositional dialogue and a few too many winky references to the Titanic‘s ultimate fate. (Says Noth at the end of the first hour: “Titanic will be the eighth wonder of the world, William. It shall outlive us all!”)
Still, as a balm for severe Downton deprivation, you could do worse. Does Blood and Steel sound like something you’d be interested in? And if not, what suggestions do you have for those still suffering from Downton withdrawal?