BC-TV-PENNINGTON-COLUMN:SL — entertainment (500 words),0572

An ABC miniseries and more shows explore the Titanic

(EDITORS: All times EDT; check local PBS listings)

By Gail Pennington

St. Louis Post-Dispatch (MCT)

If “Downton Abbey” met “Titanic,” you might get — well, “Titanic,” a four-hour miniseries from “Downton” scribe Julian Fellowes, airing April 14 and 15 on ABC. The final hour coincides with the 100th anniversary of the ship’s sinking.

ABC bills “Titanic,” which has already debuted in Great Britain to critical disappointment, as “a retelling of the doomed voyage that cleverly weaves action, mystery and romance.”

It “features both fictional and historical characters,” the network says, “ranging from steerage passengers and crew to upper-class guests and staff. ... Each hour follows similar events from different points of view, culminating in a cliffhanger, as the ship begins to founder, and building to an explosive conclusion in the final hour that draws together all the stories.”

On board, in first class, are Linus Roache (“Law & Order”) as Hugh, Earl of Manton, and Geraldine Somerville as his wife, Louisa. Perdita Weeks is “their reluctant daughter, Georgianna, a suffragette.”

Also in the huge cast, below deck and above, are David Calder as Captain Smith, Brian McCardie and Steven Waddington as his first and second officers, Toby Jones (“My Week With Marilyn”) as Irish lawyer John Batley, Maria Doyle Kennedy (“The Tudors”) as his wife, and James Wilby (“Gosford Park”) as Bruce Ismay, head of the steamship line. Linda Kash is Margaret “Unsinkable Molly” Brown.

Although the sinking of the Titanic has figured in TV period pieces from “Upstairs, Downstairs” to Fellowes’ “Downton Abbey,” the last time the disaster got miniseries treatment was in 1996, when CBS rushed a two-night drama starring George C. Scott onto the screen to capitalize on buzz from James Cameron’s forthcoming theatrical “Titanic.” Despite an appearance by Catherine Zeta-Jones as a heroic passenger, the miniseries was generally panned.

Ditto for this new “Titanic.” After the first hour, the Times of London said of its characters, “Some will live, some will drown. So far, they’ll none of ‘em be missed.” The problem, said the Daily Express, “is that it isn’t quite a disaster movie nor quite a drama, either.”

ABC may have less than full confidence, either, scheduling three of the four hours on a Saturday night. “Titanic” airs 8-11 p.m. April 14 and 9-10 p.m. April 15.

TV marks the Titanic anniversary with several worthy-sounding documentaries as well.

Here are some:

—”Titanic: The Final Word With James Cameron” (8-10 p.m. April 8 on National Geographic) follows Cameron as he returns to the scene of his Oscar-winning movie, diving into the wreck in an attempt “to solve the lingering mysteries of why and how an ‘unsinkable’ ship sank.”

—”Save the Titanic With Bob Ballard” (10 p.m. April 9 on National Geographic) follows the ocean explorer on “a new quest: protect Titanic’s massive underwater graveyard.”

—”The Titanic With Len Goodman” (9 p.m. April 10 on PBS) shows the “Dancing With the Stars” judge in a new light. Goodman once worked as a welder for Harland and Woolf, the company that built the Titanic. In the special, he “takes viewers on an exploration of the ship’s hundred-year legacy” through the stories of the men who built her “and then died with her.”

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Gail Pennington: gpenningtonpost-dispatch.com

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