Thursday, March 29, 2012
Titanic: The Aftermath Well Worth Catching
I made a resolution last week not to watch any more Titanic TV centenary specials.
The sameness of the material was beginning to get to me.
And then along came a preview DVD of Titanic;The Aftermath and it presented the tragedy from an uniquely Canadian perspective.
So I got hooked all over again. This two-hour docvudrama looks at the events from an entirely different perspective.
It takes up the story after the gigantic ocean liner has sunk and shows how a remarkable bunch of Canadians operating out of Halifax managed to get to the site within days to retrieve as many floating corpses as possible.
And just to make the material dramatically relevant for contemporaries it presents several of the descendants of those who perished that fateful night and shows how their family histories were forever changed.
We may know the outcome but there's a tremendous amount of suspense in this chase to reach the site and gather the bodies.
The docudrama is a model of precise editing and solid research. It plays out so very well because every detail is true.
Hats off to writer-director Marion Milne who has done an outstanding job aided by crack cinematographer Andrew Muggleton.
The dramatic portions rings true because of the fine group of Canadian actors including Richard Donat as John Henry Barnstead who was in charge of finding the bodies and identifying them. The techniques he pioneered during this mass catastrophe were still in use at the time of 9/11 and his success is all the more remarkable considering the lack of DNA techniques at the time.
each body was given a name tag and a number and hand sewn mortuary bags encased each body.
Bodies were numbered and the condition of the body listed and the approximate age, weight and height was taken down including identifying marks, clothes and personal effects which were transferred to individual sealed bags to prevent looting.
When the bodies were transferred to a makeshift Halifax morgue Barnstead had a photograph taken of each victim's face for identification purposes.
Helping every step of the way was Cayain Frederick Larnder (played by Gary Levent) who had sequested local undertakers to begin embalming the corpses while the ship was still at sea.
As experts tell us the bodies would have already begun decomposing by the time rescue ships discovered them three days later.
There simply were not enough coffins for every body to be sent to Halifax and dozens were buried at sea --a practice later heavily criticized.
The most famous man to perish was millionaire John Jacob Astor who was returning from an European honeymoon with his heavily pregnant bride --his son Vincent offered the reward of $10,000 if the body was recovered --and it was.
Months later Mrs. Astor gave birth to their son but Vincent Astor was not pleased and remained estranged from his brother for the remainder of their lives. All this is told by John Jacob's grand daughter.
We also hear about the fate of band player Jock Hume, who was training to be a great violinist and played on until he perished. He left behind a tearful and pregnant fiancee whose story is painfully recounted by her grand son standing by the Halifax grave site of the grand father he never knew.
There are so many surprises in this dramatically masterfully recounted true story. You really owe it to yourself to watch.
TITANIC: THE AFTERMATH PREMIERES ON DISCOVERY CANADA SUND. APRIL 1 AT 8 P.M.
MY RATING: ****.