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Titanic centenary dominates Cannes TV fest

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14:29 CEST+02:00

From documentaries to high-end costume dramas, the centenary of the sinking of the RMS Titanic has sparked a tidal wave of TV shows, up for grabs at this week's MIPTV international trade show in Cannes.

 

Episode one of the mini-series "Titanic", penned by Oscar and Emmy-winning scriptwriter Julian Fellowes and distributed by Britain's ITV Studios, was given a gala screening at the fair opening night Sunday, in presence of cast and crew.

ITV's take on the tragedy, which claimed some 1,500 lives on April 15, 1912, has the ship sinking at the start of each episode, a strategy set by the show's producers, Fellowes told reporters in the French Riviera city of Cannes.

"What is interesting about a disaster is how people behave in the disaster. What are their emotional challenges?" he said. "Also by definition, you also ask yourself, 'Would I be brave, would I be a coward?'"

"By sinking the ship every week, we were able to give people the drama and the tension and the terror in each episode as opposed to going through three hours of people being unhappily married and then finally, it hits the iceberg."

Fellowes said he had been interested in the story of the Titanic since he was a child.

"Even as a small boy of eight, I was struck by the totality of this disaster. The fact that all life was there, that the whole world was represented on this ship," he told journalists, adding that he was a bit obsessed by the incident.

Unlike James Cameron's big-screen take on the world's most famous maritime disaster, ITV's star-studded, four one-hour TV series is not a love story, though romance does rear its head when a young cabin steward falls for a waiter.

Instead, the drama focuses on the class distinctions that existed at the time and how passengers react to the unfolding disaster, knowing there are not enough lifeboats for everybody aboard.

"In this film we have lots of factual people and we have chosen to give them real stories," Fellowes said, citing the example of the Wideners, a couple and their son who were on board the ship.

Fellowes' take on the Titanic is half way through airing in Britain to mixed reviews, with "Titanoraks" quoted in the media as complaining of historical inaccuracies such as the appearance of a car not introduced until years later.

But the general public seems enthusiastic, with 7.4 million tuning in for the premiere. ITV said on Sunday that its series, which cost £11 million (€13.2 million, $17.6 million) to make, has already been sold to 95 countries, including China, Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaysia and Mexico. 

Many other leading broadcasters around the world are busy selling their own take on the ocean-liner's ill-fated maiden voyage through the North Atlantic.

Discovery Channel's docu-drama, "The Aftermath", focuses on the descendants of the people who lost relatives in the sinking and how they were affected. 

National Geographic will air three Titanic TV documentaries, including "Titanic: The Final Word," in early April, just ahead of the date of the anniversary of the ship's collision with an iceberg.

In "The Final Word", Cameron brings together a team of engineers, naval architects, artists and historians to solve the mysteries of how and why the ship sank.

The most costly "Titanic" documentary of all is probably "Titanic: Blood and Steel" a 12-episode series that portrays the epic process of building the ship and the people who made it come to life.

A co-production including television companies from Italy, the United States and Canada, Germany, Spain and Ireland, the docu-series reportedly cost a whopping 30 million dollars to make.

 

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