compare and contrast

Can Julian Fellowes’s Titanic Fill the Downton Abbey Void?

TITANIC - The highly anticipated ABC Premiere Event,
Photo: Laurence Cendrowicz/ITV/ Lookout Point TV

When Julian Fellowes’s four-part Titanic miniseries hits the air this weekend (Happy 100th Titanic Anniversary, by the way!), it will necessarily be compared and contrasted ad nauseum to James Cameron’s 1997* masterpiece.  Kate and Leo cast a long shadow, of course, and there are only so many plot points (or boiler room shots, it turns out) that you can squeeze out of a fictional story set on a sinking boat. Love, an iceberg, the band that played on — the miniseries hits all these familiar notes, and then some. But if you consider Titanic the miniseries based on the merits of its creator, rather than its source material, then you have a different television experience altogether. Downton Abbey on a boat! If Julian Fellowes wrote it, and it involves lords, maids, and the year 1912, then surely it’s close enough to Downton for our purposes, right? Well … not totally. But there are enough parallels to give you a quick Downton fix, if you absolutely cannot wait until 2013.  And you can’t, really, because 2013 is very far away. So here’s what to look for (mild spoilers ahead, if that is even possible in a Titanic movie):

The Snobby Earl’s Daughter Who Needs a Husband, and Fast
Let’s be real: Lady Georgiana, daughter to the Earl of Manton, takes more than a little inspiration from Kate Winslet’s Rose (she has no patience for social mores, she might be moving to Philly), but she’s British. And aristocratic. And she flirts with a handsome and exotic foreigner at dinner. Mary’s spirit is clearly guiding her.

The Likable Earl With a Wandering Eye
Like Lord Grantham, the Earl of Manton is well-mannered, dutiful, and respectful to those with a lesser social standing. He also apparently has a taste for women who are not his wife, just like Lord Grantham did in season two.

The Disloyal Lady’s Maid
It’s a little harsh to put Lady Manton’s very proper lady’s maid in the same category as the conniving, soap-wielding O’Brien. But stealing is stealing, even if you are planning to sell your boss’s brooch to pay for your dad’s medical bills

A Handsome Foreigner Who Seduces Unsuspecting British Women
Fellowes actually ups the ante with this one — Downton only had Pamuk (R.I.P.), but Titanic has both a dashing Italian waiter and a mysterious Russian. Both have some serious game.

The Hardworking Maid Who’s Gonna Make Something of Herself
Downton’s Gwen, meet Titantic’s Annie. You both have big dreams and angelic faces.

Lots and Lots of Irish Politics
Instead of one Irish radical and a Soup Urn of Terror, Titanic has a steerage deck full of Belfast natives — including adorable kids! But still, a lot of Irish political talk goes down here, and in one case, it even leads to a love affair (just like Branson and Sybil!).

Maria Doyle Kennedy Going Nuts at People
Mrs. Bates returns! And she is still screaming at other characters with those extra-bulgy eyes! It’s really all she does for the entirety of the series.

British People Saying Snotty Things About Americans
There’s no Maggie Smith analog here, unfortunately, but there are plenty of high-and-mighty women in large hats saying derisive things about the American passengers onboard.  We feel particularly bad for the movie star.  Movie stars are the gauchest, apparently.

The Actual Titanic disaster
Downton did start with the news that Earl Grantham’s heir had died on the boat, remember? Squint closely, and maybe you can find Patrick Crawley among the miniseries passengers. Lady Edith will thank you.

* This post has been corrected to reflect that James Cameron’s Titanic was released in 1997.

Can Julian Fellowes’s Titanic Fill the Downton Abbey Void?