Watching Titanic: more a steerage sort of family

Written by Kirstie Pelling
Looking out to sea

All this Titanic stuff does make you think….

Watching Titanic: more a steerage sort of family

When I first saw the movie Titanic I thought it was just a tragic love story, but fifteen years on, watching it with the kids as part of our Titanic tour, I’m shocked at the kids reaction and troubled by mine.

A night to remember

We tread carpeted stairs lined with fairy lights. With a growing sense of excitement we realise we are heading towards row K.

“I think we’re in the posh seats,” whispers Cameron.

These premium seats dominate the cinema with leathery decadence. Vue Cinema Lancaster have kindly offered tickets to see James Cameron’s Titanic in 3D to kick off our Titanic season, but we aren’t expecting the posh seats. We sink into the armchairs, place drinks in the smart holders, push 3D glasses onto expectant faces and wait for the drama to unfold.

And so it does, in all its’ computer generated, multi-million dollar glory, just as it did fifteen years ago when I first viewed it in two dimensions in a London cinema. Back then, I took it at face value; a melodramatic action movie with some cool CGI effects. Now, with children of my own, it is a different experience. At its most basic level Titanic (the movie) is a simple story of boy meets girl, but look deeper and it throws up all sorts of issues about human nature and the fragility of life and dreams.

I have more wrinkles now and at the bottom of the ocean Titanic has probably gained a few more barnacles. But Kate and Leo still look absurdly youthful, and almost unbearably hopeful that their very different worlds may collide without disaster.

Titanic Movie Posters

The Titanic story has spurned many movies, all with the same end

When the boat struck ice, everything changed

As we all know, the ship went down, changing the lives of everyone on board. No matter how hard the script writers worked to bring love and redemption to this story, there could never be a happy ending for the lead characters; or in fact any characters. Early in the morning of 15th April 1912 1496 died. Many of the 711 people that survived spent the rest of their lives trying to come to terms with the guilt and relief of being a survivor. History has already written this story, and book after book has pored over and speculated on the gruesome yet compelling facts.

While Titanic the movie is an action adventure on the seas and an Oscar winning love story, it is also an exploration of wealth and class, a tale of how many of the ‘haves’ escaped to continue their lives while many more ‘have not’s’ perished. We watch in awe how the people on the ship respond to the chaos and cope with the realisation of their own mortality. We watch in dismay as the band play on, the rich climb into the lifeboats and the poor tumble into the freezing water.

We’re more a steerage sort of family

Down in steerage

Down in steerage where we feel most at home!

And that’s when it occurs to me that we are the only ones sitting in the premium seats. Suddenly the leather armchairs don’t feel quite so comfortable. First class is not naturally our style and I want to announce to all the other people who have their popcorn in their hands instead of a posh holder that we are more a steerage kind of family.

Is Titanic a family theme?

For the first time, I also feel uncomfortable about what we are exposing our kids to with our Titanic journey. I think back to World Travel Market, where I first saw the advert for the world’s biggest Titanic Visitor Experience and envisioned a family trip to it. An attraction about the biggest, most decadent ship on earth and all the drama that the sinking entailed. But while I knew it would be deeply engaging, I didn’t think about the difficult questions it would raise. Questions that turn this night of pure Hollywood entertainment into a jarring and thought provoking experience.

Looking out to Liverpool at night

What must it be like to lose someone at sea?

  • How do families cope when they are touched by tragedy like this?
  • What must it be like to leave a loved one to die or to send them to safety knowing you will not make it?
  • Who and what would I be, faced with that kind of situation?

Call me naïve but I thought I’d spend this Easter week learning about shipbuilding, high society and Edwardian etiquette on this Titanic tour, not contemplating the fragility of my family life.

I check on the kids

As we leave the cinema, I check the kids are ok.

“I’m going to have nightmares…!” exclaims Cameron. “Definitely. One part was really gruesome…”

“Which bit was that?” I ask, fearing he’ll be fretting about the frozen bodies in the water, or the harrowing screams of people struggling for survival.

“The bit where they kissed. Ugh! That was really horrible.” he replies. “But I really liked the part where the ship went down and the people clung to the rail then fell off and went shooting down the deck and smashed into the funnel. That was SO awesome.”

Perhaps fears of mortality only come with age. And while the kids are really looking forward to the ferry to Belfast, I’m now not sure how I’ll feel standing on deck in the cold, black of night.

This post is part of our Tales of Titanic Cities Tour.

We’ visited Liverpool and Belfast to find out more about how the two cities are connected to Titanic, joined in the Titanic Festival and tried to  figure out what the story of the Titanic has to teach us one hundred years on.

Read these other posts from our Titanic Season.

About the author

Kirstie Pelling

Kirstie is the Editor of The Family Adventure Project. A professional writer and poet, she's the creative and journalistic force behind many of the stories and features published here. She's a co-founder and co-director of The Family Adventure Project and also works as the #poetinmotion producing and performing poetry for print, video and live performance.


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