Podcast – Iceberg – Dead Ahead

Season 5 episode 14: Iceberg – Dead Ahead

Marking the 110th anniversary of the Titanic disaster, the CinePunked team assemble to discuss the definitive screen version of the incident – Roy Ward Baker’s 1958 film A Night to Remember. Gathering just outside of Belfast, where the ship was built, Robert, Rachael and Neil consider the legacy of the night, Belfast’s relationship with the story, generational trauma and just what we’d do if faced with the same situation.

Sleeve notes are below.

With Robert JE Simpson, Dr Rachael Kelly and Neil Sedgewick.

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Episode URL: https://player.whooshkaa.com/episode?id=980743

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Original French poster artwork for A Night to Remember under the title Atlantique Latitude 41°

As a company based in Belfast, Northern Ireland, we have been surprisingly good at not featuring Northern Irish content within our shows. Largely this is because we never wanted to be too localised in our approach. We want to talk about and with the world. But, with the global appeal of its story, it was inevitable at some point that we would tackle the screen depictions of the Titanic disaster.

The RMS Titanic was built close to where I grew up in East Belfast, and I have my own connections to the ship itself. I’ve been fascinated since watching a Channel 4 documentary on the discovery of the wreck in the mid-1980s, when I was an impressionable kid. I’ve worked for a number of years professionally with the Titanic story – this is a tale I’m very attached to.

As a kid I read Walter Lord’s book on the disaster – A Night to Remember was based on eye-witness reports from survivors and is a powerful and deceptively simple account of the evening. I then saw the film adaptation and found it powerful and moving, and it has remained so after repeated viewings in the interim. But how would my CinePunked colleagues respond, when they are less invested in the story?

That is the essence behind this conversation – how we as natives of Northern Ireland view this story, which is so strongly connected and promoted in our home. When Titanic is mentioned, so many think of the 1997 James Cameron film, so with that the dominant screen narrative, how do we feel going back 40 years to an arguably purer narrative?

Listening back, its a conversation that moves beyond Titanic, into representation of trauma, and its clear that the film is a powerful tool that prompts questions about motivation and practice far beyond the general disaster movie vibes.

Original UK ‘B’ style quad poster for A Night To Remember (1958)

A Night to Remember was the latest in a long line of Titanic-related media at the time of its release, with the now-lost film Saved From the Titanic starring actual survivor Dorothy Gibson, kicking things off in 1912. We have as consumers been obsessed by the story from the point the ship started being constructed.

One thing we didn’t manage to get to, was a discussion of the earlier screen version of A Night to Remember. Shortly after Walter Lord’s book was published the NBC network in America produced an hour-long tv version for the Kraft Television Theatre strand. It was a huge undertaking. Broadcast live on 28 March 1955, making use of 31 sets and 107 actors (72 of them in speaking parts), the reception was overwhelmingly positive, and with the same source material being used, features a lot of overlap with Roy Ward Baker’s later big-screen version. Its very effective considering the limitations of the live format.

Claude Rains provides a narration that opens with sections from the prescient 1898 novel Futility, or The Wreck of the Titan by Morgan Robertson, with a pre-Avengers Patrick Macnee in the role of shipbuilder Thomas Andrews.

The film was telecined, and can be viewed in a muddy VHS transfer on YouTube. If you have access to a 16mm print or cleaner transfer, I’d love to hear from you! I made sure to steer the gang away from the colourised versions of both films which are online – they’re all automated colourisations and detract from the beautiful black and white (notably of the ’58 version). I suggest you do too! The tv version can be viewed below:

A tiny factual correction too – as I mention in the pod, Millvina Dean was indeed the last living survivor of the Titanic – she died 31 May 2009 at the age of 97 (and not 1999 as I suggested – the old brain was getting sluggish!).

We’ve timed the release of this episode to coincide with the 110th anniversary of Titanic’s ill-fated voyage, and in fact have launched it on 10 April 2022, exactly 110 years to the day after Titanic departed Southampton with the first of her passengers.

For reasons of convenience we recorded the episode in our by-now standard remote setup from the home studios. Ben was held up with the day job and so wasn’t able to join us – but I did speak to him after the record and he found the film very effective and bleak, and was glad to have seen it. I was tempted to arrange a recording at a location with a more direct connection to the ship – perhaps in Belfast’s Titanic Quarter. Perhaps we can arrange something on a future date with an audience. Do drop us a line if you’re interested…

Clockwise from top left: Dr Rachael Kelly, Robert J.E. Simpson and Neil Sedgewick recording ‘Ice Berg – Dead Ahead‘, 6 April 2022

‘Iceberg – Dead Ahead’ includes excerpts from A Night to Remember (dir. Roy Ward Baker, 1958). Distributed by The Rank Organisation. Available on Blu-ray from Criterion in the USA and ITV Studios in the UK.

The CinePunked theme music is ‘Riding the Synth‘ – © 2020, Ben Blademan Simpson. Used with permission.

Episode recorded in Newtownards, Holywood and Dundonald, Northern Ireland on 6 April 2022.

Engineered and edited by Robert JE Simpson. First published on 10 April 2022.


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