Sunday, 22 April 2012

TV Reviews: Once Upon A Time, CI5, Titanic Episode 4

Once Upon a Time - "All Magic Comes With A Price"
Last week was centered was centered on the story about how Prince Charming  met Snow White. The juxtaposition of the fairy tale fantastic narrative, flipping back to the realist American township works very well, and there was a very cunning transposition in this episode, where a Troll Bridge becomes a Toll Bridge. It's certainly one of the most original fantasy series I've seen for a while, and the acting is excellent, the actors giving two similar but distinctive renderings of each character, which is part of the fun!

This week was the turn of the Cinderella story, both in the magic kingdom, and in the present day analogue (where there's a pregnant maid called Ella). Another chance for Robert Carlyle as the wicked Rumplestilskin / Mr Gold to shine. "All magic comes with a price", as Cinderella's fairy godmother disintegrates in a puff of smoke, and Rumpelstilskin makes the deal for her unborn child. The fairly tale sequences are excellent, conjuring up the right world, with the slightly archaic patterns of speech.

In the real world analogue, Ella is a young girl of 18 whose got herself pregnant, and whose boyfriend's father has made a contract with Mr Gold to secure a future for the child, as an unmarried mother, he states, would really not be the right person to bring up the child. It's interesting how cleverly they fit contemporary opinions into the story. Ella, of course, lives with her step-mother and two step-sisters. They take the traditional story, and rework it imaginatively.

CI5: The New Professionals
In between, on one of the satellite channels, I caught up with show I had never seen before CI5: The New Professionals. This had Edward Woodward replacing Gordon Jackson, and a different team. That kind of thing doesn't always work well. The New Avengers was a pale shadow of its former glory days in The Avengers. In this case, the plot held up surprisingly well (a hostage situation, with a suspected war criminal held hostage), and Woodward was excellent. It was originally shown on Satellite, and never made it to terrestrial TV. The theme music is a slightly mellow version of the original, without so much brass.

As I haven't yet posted a review of Titanic on ITV, which ended last week, I thought I'd better do so for the sake of completeness; I have, after all, commented on the previous episodes. In this one, the ship goes down, and everyone who survives clambers into the few lifeboats remaining.

As this is a budget production, a few lifeboats are all there are. Ismay climbs into a lifeboat and Captain Smith, showing surprising prescience, realises that this will make Ismay will be seen as a coward in the inquiry to follow, and himself as a fool.

Meanwhile, Lord Duff-Gordon hands out £5 to each crewman to prevent them rowing back in his lifeboat. Well, it was supposed to be each crewman, but there only seemed to be one there, because of budget cuts. The ship cracks and creaks and goes down, but in comparison with the 1957 model work in the film "A Night to Remember", this is incredibly badly done. It's all so dark, all one can make out are shadows for the most part; in the 1957 film, one of the funnels breaks off and smashes into the sea (as witnesses recorded) giving it a sense of finality; here it is like watching an Airfix model sink, despite the use of CGI. Actually there is a model of the Titanic done by Airfix, so perhaps they cut back on the CGI and used that instead.

Toby Jones' lawyer survives the cold water to be taken on a lifeboat, but his wife dies of exposure. Quite how he survives so long is rather amazing, especially as he has breath to mourn his wife again and again. The survivors in the water is always a problem, as it always looks like people in a large water tank, which it obviously is; even James Cameron didn't really solve this problem, although he did add a shot or two of the night sky. Apparently the tank used for this sequence was the largest ever used on a TV production, and I think they should have asked for a refund.

There's no mention of the Californian, no officer shoots themselves, and finally the Carpathia comes into view, a small dot on the horizon. And it ends there, before the small dot can resolve itself into anything more solid; clearly the budget had finally been used up.

This has been one of the worst productions of Titanic that I have seen. The trailers have been calling the finale "epic", but epic it most decidedly is not. The impact of the Titanic is left to a few paragraphs on the screen, as the end titles play; there was more impact in Coward's Cavalcade, where the two shipboard lovers part to reveal the words Titanic on a life ring, or Upstairs Downstairs where Lady Bellamy goes down with the ship - we only hear about it third hand, but with compelling dramatic telling by her Ladyship's personal maid. Here, we just leave the survivors - some of these, of course, are real people about whom we do know what happened, but Julian Fellowes fictional creations are just out there drifting, waiting for someone to pick the story up, which is a very low key way to end such a series.

I suspect that when people in future refer to the "Titanic disaster", there may be confusion over whether it was the ship sinking, or this TV series.

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