A full year before James Cameron broke box office records, Robert Lieberman directed a TV miniseries about the Titanic. Starring Catherine Zeta-Jones, Peter Gallagher, Tim Curry, and George C. Scott, the film was aired in two parts in November 1996.The film follows three plots:
Isabella is returning to America after attending her aunt's funeral. On the trip, she meets Wynn, her ex-lover.
The Allison family and their new nurse, Alice Cleaver. Unlike the other two plots, this is based on real-life passengers. Unfortunately, even this fails in research, as Alice is portrayed as a mentally disturbed child killer.
Jamie, a down-on-his-luck pickpocket, sneaks aboard the Titanic after lifting a ticket from an immigrant. He meets a missionary family, and a crewman who is planning on robbing the First Class.
Tropes featured include:
Anachronism Stew: Wynn says that soon people will be flying across the Atlantic in airplanes, which realistically no one would have believed in 1912.
Jamie describes to Aase a "moving picture" he saw once, though by 1912 moving pictures were nothing new.
Third Class had baths, not showers - rare in the UK at the time.
First class passengers are seen dancing the tango when in fact there was no dancing for first class passengers on Titanic and the tango was not even embraced by the upper classes until a few years later.
Thomas Andrews is completely absent from the events of the sinking, and his role is merged with Captain Smith. Chief Officer Henry Wilde, Third Officer Herbert Pitman and Sixth Officer James Moody are also omitted.
Isabella asks to switch rooms, but is told the ship is completely booked. Only half the rooms of First and Second Class were occupied.
The ship is shown to be docked on its starboard side in Southampton, when Titanic was actually docked on the port side.
Captain Smith chastises Ismay by telling him that they have "precisely the number of lifeboats required by the British Board of Trade." In actuality, Titanic carried four more boats than the law required for a ship of her size.
There was no press conference on board before the voyage. In addition, Smith's comment about "shipbuilding becoming such an art that any ship foundering is impossible" was made five years prior on the Adriatic.
The Astors and Molly Brown did not board the ship at Southampton, and instead boarded in France.
When the iceberg is sighted, Murdoch uses binoculars to get a better look at it. Neither the officers nor the lookouts had binoculars on Titanic. Shortly before the ship set sail, Captain Smith brought on Chief Wilde as Chief Officer, thus Murdoch and Lightoller were each demoted a rank, and Second Officer David Blair was removed from the command roster altogether. When he left the ship, Blair accidentally took with him the keys to the locker in which the binoculars were kept (in other versions, he actually took the binoculars with him or they were left in his cabin). Given the state of optics in 1912, and that there was no moon, it is unlikely binoculars would have made a significant improvement.
Actually, it was only the lookouts' binoculars which were misplaced; Lightoller confirmed at the inquiries that he and every other senior officer(including the captain) had their own pair of binoculars which they were free to use when on watch. Since Murdoch did not survive the disaster, it is unknown if he had his binoculars with him when the fatal iceberg was sighted.
It is implied that the Allisons' nanny is Alice Cleaver, the child killer. In fact she was a different woman.
As in many versions of the story, Bruce Ismay is shown to be desperate for the Titanic to break a speed record when he would have known that the White Star Line's ships could not match the Cunard's liners the Lusitania and the Mauretania for speed. Instead, the White Star Line aimed to beat the Cunard with greater size and luxury. Furthermore, arriving in New York a day early would not have earned him plaudits but the wrath of passengers whose hotel and travel arrangements were for the following day, not to mention irritating New York customs.
Margaret Brown is inaccurately portrayed as an oversexed hillbilly, carousing and gambling in the smoking room - a male only domain in 1912. She was also never referred to as Molly in her lifetime.
The weapons that are removed from the ship's safe are a Smith & Wesson and two Iver Johnson revolvers. However, the guns that the officers had on board were Webley revolvers (accurately used in Jim Cameron's film).
Captain Obvious: "All attempts to raise the Titanic have failed." No such attempt has or ever will be made.
Yes, there was the section of the hull they raised in 1996, but a tiny section is not the entire ship!
Heaven Seeker: The Jack family and their saved Scandinavian, Aase. Aase is so into God, she does not care about the "incredible new" moving pictures.
Heroic BSOD: Surprisingly, averted. Captain Smith, who by many accounts became distant and indecisive upon realizing the gravity of the situation, is remarkably coherent. He criticizes Murdoch on his handling of avoiding the iceberg like someone a century later would.
Historical Villain Upgrade: Bruce Ismay, the chairman of the White Star Line who was savaged by the press for merely surviving the disaster is here portrayed to be a deranged speed obsessed lunatic, undermining the crew at every turn and even going as far heading down into the boiler room (something that could never happen in reality) and screaming at the stokers to light more boilers. Once Titanic hits the iceberg, Ismay is shown to be a sniveling, panicking idiot who snakes his way into one of the last lifeboats.
It's All About Me: One of the wealthy snobs that Isabella spends time with during the cruise is immediately concerned with getting a refund once the ship sinks, and spends the next morning filing an insurance claim.
Justified Criminal: Jamie, who plans to rob the ship with Tim Curry, but has a change of heart and decided to help save the other steerage passengers instead.
Laser-Guided Karma: Tim Curry tries to loot the first class staterooms during the sinking and gets into a lifeboat disguised as a woman. After a scuffle on the lifeboat following the sinking, he is hit by an oar, which breaks his neck and he falls into the ocean, with all the money he stole floating on the surface.
Love Triangle: Isabella with Wynn and her husband, Edward. Edward is not present for most of it, though.
Mr. Exposition: Captain Smith and J. Bruce Ismay. A good number of their lines are facts about the Titanic, from how much food they are carrying to the horsepower of the engines.
Pretty in Mink: A number of the dresses on the first class ladies feature this.
Rape as Drama: Probably the most jarring and random example ever.
Shown Their Work: One of the few things they actually got right is Titanic splitting in two, making this technically the first film to accurately depict the sinking. Of course, the film barely shows the ship splitting apart.
That Mysterious Thing: Isabella tells Madeleine Astor that her husband, "Helped me at a terrible time in my life." We never learn what this "terrible time" was about.
Too Dumb to Live: The Allisons, for waiting until the last minute to put their daughter on a lifeboat.
In real life, Alice did not take Trevor and get on the first boat to be lowered. She escaped late in the sinking, adding to the confusion of the rest of the family.