Titanic Film Festival Celebrates the Great Liner

The Ulster Folk and Transport Museum promise A Night to Remember

William MacQuitty was only six when he witnessed the launch of Titanic at the Belfast docks, but the memory of the giant ship rolling down the slipway never left him. More than four decades later he read Walter Lord's book A Night to Remember, and set out to produce the movie that made the Titanic once again a household name.

Paddy Gilmore, Director of Learning and Partnership at National Museums Northern Ireland, is delighted to present a special screening of A Night To Remember on October 14 and James Cameron's Titanic the next day at the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum.

'The backdrop for the occasion is the Rail Gallery amidst the stunning surroundings of the Irish Rail Collection,' says Gilmore. 'It is evocative of another era, when people would have travelled from across the country on trains to meet the ship at the dockside.'

Though Belfast's link to the RMS Titanic is now widely known, as Gilmore points out, it cannot be underestimated. 'In its time the Titanic was one of the most important accomplishments of the Edwardian era. Harland and Wolff was at the epicentre of the world's ship building industry and was regarded as the most important shipyard in the world.'

A Night to Remember (watch the original trailer above) was filmed when the events of April 1912 were still within living memory for many people. It benefited greatly from the cooperation of survivors of the disaster, whose eyewitness accounts added to the accuracy of the production. So enthusiastic were some advisors in assisting during filming that, as the story goes, they had to be stopped from joining in and having to be rescued a second time.

The production's Northern Irish associations included not only its producer, William MacQuitty, but also members of the cast: watch out for the actor, writer and musician Richard Hayward as victualling officer, and the playwright and actor Joseph Tomelty as Titanic's on board physician.

'The fact that one of the most famous ships in history was built in the middle of our city,' says Gilmore, 'builds a special affinity with the people of Northern Ireland and the Titanic story.'

When MacQuitty brought the idea for the film to the Rank Organisation they considered it 'just another shipwreck story', until he pointed out that it depicted the end of an era and the beginning of another. The names of the dead on the Titanic memorial are grouped according to class on a commemorative statue at Belfast City Hall, for example, whereas the soldiers named on the First World War memorial nearby are listed in alphabetical order.

In only a few short years, society had changed forever, but in the world depicted in A Night to Remember, the old guard still had the power. The film shows staff aboard the liner so afraid of their 'betters' that they followed the rules to the end, preventing many third class passengers from reaching the lifeboats. In one poignant scene a factotum forbids some teenage bellhops the small relief of a final smoke before their inevitable doom.

First class passengers meanwhile are shown fussing over the evening dress they insist on wearing for the evacuation, refusing to be dressed by any valet but their own. Visitors of the screening should bear this in mind, should they bump into Lady Duff Gordon. As the night will be enlivened by staff in period costume, she'll be weaving through the crowds to take up residence in one of Titanic's first class rooms.

A Night to Remember had a great cast, including Kenneth More, one of Britain's leading actors in the 1950s, but the real star of the film is the ship itself.

In 1997, James Cameron's blockbuster Titanic made huge stars of Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio, while the ship mainly functions as a backdrop to a powerful story of love and loss. Where the older movie depicts a defining moment within living memory of its 1958 audiences, Titanic became a milestone in itself in the memories of a younger generation.

Director Cameron spared no expense, building a full scale replica, and underwater footage was shot of the real Titanic. In a quest for authenticity the period was carefully researched, and companies who furnished the original Titanic were involved in reconstructing the decor, including several Northern Irish companies.

With 11 Oscars to its credit, making it one of the most successful films of all time, Titanic will play on Saturday night in the Rail Gallery at the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum.

To add to the sense of occasion, the public are encouraged to attend in Edwardian dress – you might be tempted to replicate Rose's finery from Titanic, but a simple duncher, workshirt and trousers will do just fine to feel like Jack, Rose's working class hero.

On both nights of the film weekend, ticket price includes free entry to TITANICa: The Exhibition, which explores how Titanic has been remembered, including a display of memorabilia from the films.

Visitors also have the chance to see artifacts from the big ship itself. As Gilmore explains: 'These include items loaned by RMS Titanic, the company which recovered items from the debris field at the bottom of the ocean. A hundred years after the ship launched these items have found their way back home to the shores of Belfast Lough.'

Titanic's demise may be the backdrop for both films shown, but Gilmore doesn't want us to forget her pedigree. 'We have a proud industrial heritage here and I think it is important that we remember this and celebrate its achievements. We are keen that people do take the opportunity to visit the exhibition and then enjoy the films, maybe with a fresh perspective.'

A Night to Remember and Titanic will be screened at the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum on October 14 and 15. For more information, go to Queen's Film Theatre.