That uplifting sinking feeling
THERE IS something distinctly creepy about the euphoria surrounding the centenary “celebrations” of the launch and submersion of RMS Titanic. Much of Belfast has been rezoned as a White Star theme park. On ITV, Julian Fellows has brought the Downton Abbey sensibility – touched forelocks towards the class system – to the story. Didn’t 1,500 people die in the disaster?
Anyway, the anniversary has allowed a re-release of the best film made about the ship’s sad maiden voyage. No, not that thing with chipmunk-face and the world’s grandest girl next door. It’s Roy Ward Baker’s charming and moving adaptation of Walter Lord’s definitive book on the subject.
Released in 1958, A Night to Remember is a classic example of brown-gravy British film-making at its sturdiest and most unshakable. This is not meant as criticism. Though not at home to showy displays of extravagance, the film is packed with actors you know but can’t quite put a name to, delivering professionally robust performances. The great Laurence Naismith is robust as Captain Edward J Smith. The versatile Michael Goodliffe plays the ship’s builder. The perennially eccentric Kenneth Griffith plays a radio operator.
Quite sensibly, the film-makers chose to focus on a gallant senior officer who – without casting any infants from the lifeboat – managed to survive the sinking. Kenneth More plays Charles Lightholler with all the tweedy integrity we expect from that likable actor. Despite the rising water all around, Ken makes us feel strangely optimistic throughout.
It is, as we’ve shown, easy to be snide about such stiff-upper-lip entertainments. Ward Baker steers clear of the chilly unease he brought to so many Hammer horror films. But A Night to Remember, despite being shot in a Ruislip swimming pool, remains the most accurate and rigorous examination of the well-worn story.
James Cameron himself has always spoken very highly of it. That must count as some sort of recommendation.
A Night to Remember: James Cameron likes it, you know Directed by Roy Ward Baker. Starring Kenneth More, Ronald Allen, Robert Ayres, Honor Blackman, Laurence Naismith, Kenneth Griffith, Michael Goodliffe, David Mccallum, Andrew Keir