We’ve heard Jack Dawson proclaim in the Oscar-winning film, “I’m the king of the world!” and know that for Rose, her “heart will go on.” But a little-told true story is what happened below passenger decks on the ill-fated voyage of the Titanic.
Losing their lives were 1,514 passengers, but the death toll could have been much higher had the vessel not stayed afloat for three hours. Nine men in the engine and boiler rooms struggled to keep the power systems running so the Titanic would not quickly capsize after the iceberg collision and to maintain the electric lights during the passengers' struggle to board life boats.
That’s the story of “Saving the Titanic,” airing at 9 p.m., Sunday, April 1, on KUED.
To mark the 100th anniversary of the Titanic’s sinking on April 14, the PBS documentary chronicles the efforts of a handful of the ship’s workers, who continued on even as they learned that all was lost and their deaths were imminent.
Knowing that the program is a dramatized re-enactment, you might be expecting at least some of the hold-your-breath drama of the 1997 James Cameron blockbuster. If so, “Saving the Titanic” will be a tedious chore to sit through. Director Maurice Sweeney is content with a stiff, clinical retelling of the engine and boiler room activities during the voyage.
Yet the details of the tragedy continue to impress. Through the voice-over, we learn that the ship’s 29 massive boilers that contained 159 furnaces required 600 tons of coal a day to be shoveled into them by hand. To achieve the performance and speed the designers required, two reciprocating engines, each 63 feet long and weighing 720 tons, were combined with a turbine — a feature not included in the Lusitania, an all-turbine ocean liner.
“Saving the Titanic” names the engineers and boiler room crew who stayed below deck, including 18-year-old electrical engineer Albert Ervine and Joseph Bell, the ship’s chief engineer. But decisions are made calmly without showing consideration from the men for their actions.
Perhaps “Saving the Titanic” would be more eventful viewing were it not for the wide popularity of the DiCaprio-Winslet feature film. The valor of some of the crew members was an aspect of the big-screen story.
Instead, just watch the real-life crew efforts in “Saving the Titanic” without thinking of the drama and suspense (and romance) taking place on the passenger decks of “Titanic.” And there is no warbling by Celine Dion.