Review: A Night to Remember

Titanic goes down in A Night to Remember
Titanic goes down in A Night to Remember


A movie for every day of the year – a good one



20 October



RMS Olympic launched, 1910

On this day in 1910, the White Star liner RMS Olympic was launched. The lead ship of the company’s Olympic class of liner, she was built at Harland and Wolff shipyard in Belfast, captained on her maiden voyage by Edward Smith. Smith was later captain of the Titanic, the Olympic’s sister ship, and her other sibling, Brittanic. Unlike her two sisters, Olympic had a long career – Titanic sank on her maiden voyage after hitting an iceberg; Brittanic hit a mine while working as a hospital ship during the First World War and sank, taking 1,500 down to their deaths. But like her sisters, Olympic was lavish on a truly spectacular scale. Even the third class accommodation was of a good standard when compared to what was on offer in other ships. Like Britannic and Titanic, Olympic was sleek and fast. She was also huge, the biggest ocean liner in the world until Titanic took her crown, and then after Titanic sank she was again until the Queen Mary came along in 1934. Much is made of Titanic’s early demise, with many seeing it as a symbol of humanity’s hubris. But very little is said about an almost entirely identical ship which sailed the seas successfully until she was taken out of service in 1935. The strange thing about Olympic is that she did nearly sink, on only her fifth voyage, in 1911, when she was hit by the British warship Hawke, which tore two large holes in her hull. The captain of Olympic at the time was Captain Edward Smith, later of Titanic. Even stranger was the fate of Violet Jessop, a stewardess and nurse, who survived the Olympic collision, only to be transferred to Titanic, whose sinking she also survived. In 1916 she was on Britannic when the liner hit the mine. She survived that too.



A Night to Remember (1958, dir: Roy Ward Baker)

Nearly 40 years before James Cameron sank his teeth into the story of Titanic, the Rank Organisation had made its own film about the events of the night the ship went down. Roy Ward Baker, more famous for his work on TV shows such as The Avengers, The Saint and The Persuaders! (their exclamation mark not mine), was at the helm and the great thriller writer Eric Ambler was on screenplay duty, which is perhaps why what resulted was taut, efficient and didn’t waste any time. The whole grisly night of 14-15 April 1912 is seen through the eyes of Second Officer Charles Lightoller, Kenneth More playing him in the bluff, confident, humane style that had made him Britain’s biggest homegrown star. Like Cameron’s film, it tells the story through its characters, competently spinning more than two handfuls of individual stories into a compelling whole. Using survivor testimony as its source material (collated in Walter Lord’s non-fiction book of the same name), and taking a semi-documentary approach, A Night to Remember calmly and grimly stands back to watch how the nearby ship Californian did nothing to help the “unsinkable” ship, how crew and passengers were similarly unflapped by the rising waters. Until it was too late. A tale of human weakness, great courage, awful cowardice and death on a large scale, the film was made for a relatively small budget and it’s only in some of the more obvious “it’s a model”, “that’s a tank” moments that you can tell.



Why Watch?


  • One of Kenneth More’s fine, humane “stiff upper lip” performances
  • A genuinely great film about the sinking of a great ship
  • Described by the New York Times in 1958 as “supremely awesome”
  • Look out for Sean Connery as an uncredited deck hand


© Steve Morrissey 2013



A Night to Remember – at Amazon





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  • A Night to Remember (1958) Biography, Drama, History | 2h 3min | 16 December 1958 (USA) 7.9
    Director: Roy Ward BakerWriters: Walter Lord, Eric AmblerStars: Kenneth More, Ronald Allen, Robert AyresSummary: A successful attempt at an even-handed portrayal of the White Star Line's (later part of Cunard) luxury liner R.M.S. Titanic's sinking from the standpoint of 2nd Officer Charles Herbert Lightoller, himself the most senior of the ill-fated ship's Deck Officers to survive the disaster. (Lightoller later went on to distinguish himself as a line British Naval Officer during the First World War and served as a Senior Naval Staff Officer (convoys) during WWII. Between wars he owned and operated a successful family business producing pleasure craft.) His own survival of the sinking, along with several others, is shown atop one of the liner's two "collapsible" lifeboats which was capsized in floating off the liner as it sank. The picture depicts then known facts (c1958) as reported after the sinking; such as the woeful lack of adequate lifeboats, the ship's band playing true to the very end, White Star's co-owner Bruce Ismay's somewhat less than chivalrous departure from the sinking vessel -... Written by [email protected]


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