Ellen Gray: 'Titanic: Blood & Steel' debuts on Encore

Liam Cunningham stars in "Titanic," which was filmed in Ireland and depicts the events leading up to the 1912 disaster.
Liam Cunningham stars in "Titanic," which was filmed in Ireland and depicts the events leading up to the 1912 disaster.
Posted: October 08, 2012

* TITANIC: BLOOD & STEEL. 8 p.m. Monday through Saturday, Encore.

TURNS OUT it took a bit longer to build the Titanic than it did to sink it.

James Cameron's "Titanic" clocked in at 3 hours, 14 minutes.

"Titanic: Blood & Steel," a 12-part miniseries filmed in Ireland about the events leading up to the April 1912 disaster, will get a six-night run on Encore this week, starting Monday.

The broadcast networks used to build them big like this, back in the '70s and '80s, before anyone dreamed that there'd someday be so many channels we'd have "Here Comes Honey Boo Boo."

Though I'm pretty sure that even in the days when Pug Henry (Robert Mitchum) was traipsing across Europe in "The Winds of War" (1983) that a historical drama set in Belfast with a young metallurgist at its center might've been a tough sell.

It's possible that the international success of "Downton Abbey" emboldened producers to embark on another pre-World War I costume drama. And this one is tied to the 100th anniversary of a tragedy that continues to fascinate us - I even have a 7-year-old nephew who's obsessed with the Titanic.

But I doubt he'd be interested in all the romantic subplots in "Blood & Steel" - which, an Encore rep assures me, isn't meant to remind anyone of its sister channel Starz's "Spartacus: Blood and Sand" - much less in the struggles over unions, Irish home rule and the internal workings of the White Star shipping line, all of which figure in the five episodes I've seen.

Kevin Zegers ("Gossip Girl") stars as the fictional Mark Muir, who, when he's not peering through a microscope trying to figure out whether the steel being used to build the RMS Titanic will be able to handle the stresses of an ocean voyage - spoiler: maybe not - is trying to come to terms both with his murky past and a romantic future that might mean crossing a class divide.

Amid a cast of dozens, a walrus-mustached Chris Noth ("The Good Wife") drops in from time to time as J.P. Morgan to check on his investment in the ship, which is being built at a yard run by the progressive Lord Pirrie (Derek Jacobi), and Neve Campbell plays an American journalist who's reporting on the project.

Hard-core lovers of historical drama who've made no other TV appointments this fall might find the time, but they can also put it on their holiday wish list: Lionsgate will release it on DVD and Blu-ray Dec. 4.

Hulu's in 'Thick of It'

Cable programmers aren't the only ones trying to lure us away from the networks' new lineups: Online outlets are fighting for attention.

Since Sept. 9, Hulu.com has been showing the latest season of "The Thick of It," posting new episodes each Sunday and creating an online-only opportunity to see the series nearly simultaneously with its release in Britain (and with none of the bleeping of profanities that accompanied its delayed runs on BBC America).

Created by Armando Iannucci, who also brings us HBO's "Veep," for which Julia Louis-Dreyfus just picked up her latest Emmy, "The Thick of It" casts a satiric eye at the inner workings of Britain's government. (Britcom fans should think "Yes, Minister" - on amphetamines.)

"It's people working at opposites," said Iannucci in an interview this summer, when I asked how he'd explain the show to people - i.e., most Americans and probably more than a few Britons - with less than a firm grasp of British affairs.

"It's office politics, but bad decisions do have an effect way outside the office. And it's about people who are constantly being monitored, not just by an electorate, but by a media and are therefore paranoid about making a wrong decision or being seen to be making the wrong decision."

Viewers need not sweat the wonky details.

"I was a big fan of 'The West Wing,' " said Iannucci, "and I didn't quite get what it was that they were talking about, in terms of the legislation or whatever. All I needed to know was that Josh was against it, Bartlet wanted it through, C.J. didn't know what to say. You know, as long as I got those, I'm enjoying the show."

Contact Ellen Gray at graye@phillynews.com or 215-854-5950. Follow her on Twitter @elgray. Read her blog at EllenGray.tv.

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