SOS Titanic (1979)

Reviewer: Charity Bishop

If you have ever heard the tragic story of the RMS Titanic, then you know it has a way of captivating audiences in a way no other legendary mishap can. Countless productions over the years have attempted to capitalize on its popularity and SOS Titanic is one of them. A historically inaccurate but nevertheless haunting depiction of those events, it is also the only film to allow us to experience second class passage.


The most wealthy and established individuals in the world are boarding the Titanic, one of the largest and most luxurious ships in maritime history, for its maiden voyage to New York. Among them is John Jacob Astor and his new bride, Madeline. His recent divorce and remarriage has scandalized the public and so they hope to maintain a low profile, but Madeline is comforted by the presence of her friend Molly Brown. A rambunctious Coloradoan determined to one day make it on the stage, Molly is a welcome breath of fresh air. Maintaining a high profile among the passengers is White Star Line managing director Bruce Ismay, who encourages the captain to increase their speed.


In second class, Laurence Beasley is on holiday from his demanding professorship at an English college. His interest in literature is shared by a fellow female passenger, Leigh Goodwin, and they strike up an unlikely friendship. Meanwhile, in third class a small group of Irish immigrants travel the ups and downs of romance. There are other couples on board that come in and out of the audience's lives, from the newlyweds and their expensive motion picture camera to the shy elevator boy. It is the relationships that are the most important in the film, rather than the surroundings or even the disaster as it unfolds. They are very realistic and entertaining and even, such as in the case of the Irish boy and the mute girl, extraordinarily sweet. But those looking for accuracy will want to turn elsewhere, as while the miniseries claims it has taken characters, conversations, and happenings from actual events, there is actually more fabrication than fact. Some scenes, such as Astor cutting open a life jacket to show his wife what is inside, are true, but the historical figures are entirely misrepresented.


Ismay escapes unscathed, as this adaptation is kinder to him than most, but "Molly" Brown is a complete caricature -- and an inaccurate one at that, as she is depicted as something of a dippy floozy. The film was shot in and around the famous Queen Mary and the difference between the two vessels is obvious, from the colors and design of the staterooms to the funnels. The costuming is lovely but the hairstyles suffer from too much modernization. One nice thing about it is that the acting is solid. Many of the cast members are well known in recent times but were "nobodies" when this was produced -- one example is Helen Mirren in a small but significant role as a maid. Her expression when Ismay climbs into a boat is magnificent. Apart from the inaccuracies, there is not much to be concerned with in terms of content. There is one abuse of Christ's name, and a handful of mild profanities. Mild sensuality is present when Laurence invites Leigh to an empty stateroom for a tryst, but she declines. There is some sinking violence but none of it is graphic. When encouraged to have faith, Madeline says that God went down with the Titanic, and no longer exists.


I appreciated some emphasis placed on the Carpathia and the fact that its captain sailed through an ice field to reach the lifeboats. Historical inaccuracies aside, it was one of the "happier" productions I have seen centered around the event -- and was certainly worth my time.