Helen Mirren adds class to even the servant side of life

On the eve of the 100th Anniversary of Titanic’s sinking, it seems fit to review all the Titanic films I’ve seen and finally, after a long wait, SOS Titanic was finally released on DVD in the UK. Worth the wait? I’d certainly say so.

Released: 1979

Runtime: 3hrs (TV Movie) DVD current release: 1h 38 mins

The Premise

If you don’t know a Titanic film by now, you never will. This is a distinctly British stab at it trying to recreate actual events from witness accounts.

The Disasters Faced

The Iceberg, stacking it in your fine gown and a runaway piano.

A large budget for a TV movie meant that some nifty camera trickery makes for good practical effects

The Execution

What a difference a fine set of actors and actresses can make to a film. Whilst the film does boast some very good production values – especially with set and costume design – it’s the acting that really raises the bar. Each person has their own stage presence – one lady doesn’t even say a word throughout the film yet she makes herself more than known throughout. As ever with a Titanic film, there’s a good cross-section of passengers and crew from all classes and they each have their own drama’s ongoing. What marks this out is that each character nicely fleshed out. How refreshing it is to see Molly Brown worry and fret about being alone, to see 2nd class passengers discuss how they are strangely in the middle of the system (a class often left out in other films) and so on. The action sequences are shot and put together so that they get the most out of what they had and it simply just feels different compared to a lot of the cut and paste romance riddled imitators of James Cameron’s version – one that would come nearly 20 years after this one.

The Effects

Some of the big view shots are still pictures and there’s some clever camera trickery that now is quite easy to spot but everything does the job. The set designs are generally fantastic though.

Why It’s Worth Watching

SOS Titanic in its current shortened version is a fantastic view because it makes some really interesting choices. Ian Holm’s portrayal of Ismay is the first time I’ve seen him played as a broken man pushed to the edge. There’s also a lot more to do with the Carpathia, with a full epilogue to round the story off there too. It’s also interested in being quite detailed without needing to drown everything in melodrama. There is a certain innocence and beauty to it all and the script allows the actors to work their magic. I would kill for the full unabridged version that aired on TV and of course, if that were to be released, I’d pick that over this.

A beautifully British romance – what can go wrong..oh dear…

Favourite Character

One of the key things is the likeability of many characters in this film. I’ll go with David Warner on one of his three trips to Titanic in his film career for playing the perfect gentleman! Cloris Leachman’s Molly Brown is a narrowly beaten second, however.

Best Death

The grand piano! I originally saw the film on TV when I was a young child and the moment stuck so much in my head, even though the name of the film didn’t. It took me years before the internet came along for me to discover which film it had come from.

Drinking Game

Where did that character go?

Weirdest Moment

There are only two flaws (aside from it sank in one piece problem) that confuse me. One is because the DVD chops over 40 minutes of story, sometimes characters drop in and out for a while and then appear in two places right next to each other without warning. Helen Mirren goes from lifeboat to the smoking room back to back. Surely she’s going the wrong way?! Aside from that, the real footage of icebergs is clearly shot in the daytime and when cut in between the effects of the ship itself at night-time, it’s jarring and slightly Twilight Zone esque.

Poster from the release

Random Trivia

SOS Titanic was ambitious for its time because it was trying to be historically and factually accurate – even for a big-budget TV movie. What’s interesting to note now, is how things have changed over the years with various expeditions down to the sea to take a look at the wreckage itself. If you run this alongside the 1997 Titanic, you can spot the errors.


For me, there are three Titanic films that personally stand above the rest that I’ve seen to date. James Cameron’s Titanic for its lavish production and attention to detail, A Night to Remember for its fastidious account where it almost becomes documentary-like and SOS Titanic for it feels almost like a scrapbook Diary version of events – somewhere pitched between the aforementioned two. All three are most worthy of your attention.

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