Reviewer: Charity Bishop
The RMS Titanic was not the only one of the White Star Line's ships to meet a cruel fate at the bottom of the sea. Her sister ship Olympic collided with a submarine but survived. Britannic, the third and largest of the remodeled ships, was no so fortunate. In the winter of 1916, while the war raged heavily between Germany and England, the cruise liner was turned into the largest hospital ship on the high seas. Historically, this film is fiction. But it makes for a good reason as to why Britannic may have been torpedoed on its way to Cairo. It's been four years since the death of Titanic in the North Atlantic. With the arrival of the war between Germany and England, many cruise liners have been temporarily made into red cross ships. Britannic is one of them. She's being sent to Cairo to pick up a transport of wounded soldiers.
One of her few passengers is Lady Lewis (Jacqueline Bisset), a wealthy socialite traveling with her two children to Greece where she will meet her husband. Accompanying them is Vera Campbell (Amanda Ryan), her governess and a secret agent for British Intelligence. The Admiralty believes there may be a German spy on board ship. Vera has been sent to sniff him out. Little does she know that she's falling in love with him! The evening before the sailing the ship's chaplain is detained and murdered in Southampton. Assuming his place is the tall, dark, handsome, and sinister foreign agent (Edward Atterton) who immediately falls into favor with captain, crew, and Vera Campbell. He unknowingly befriends her and the children while conducting his investigation into whether or not Britannic is violating the rules of war and carrying ammunition in her cargo areas. As a hospital ship, she is not allowed to transport weapons to the troops on the front. Any ship suspected may be torpedoed if they cross into foreign waters.
If she is carrying the illegal cargo, his orders are to take her or sink her. Britannic is the largest ship in the world. Titanic was an oversight... all her flaws have been corrected with watertight bulkheads that go up five more decks, infallible lifeboat drills, and tight security. To sink her would be virtually impossible. He also has no idea he's fighting against someone he's attracted to. The lines are drawn, the sides unclear. Britannic was an attempt to make a small profit off of Titanic's success, playing off the interest created around the three ill-fated sister ships of the White Star Line. It's mostly a story of intrigue and violence but also personal struggle. The romance can't be enjoyed knowing Chaplain Reynolds is a German assassin. Rather than creating a warm, fuzzy feeling when they spend time together, you get a loathsome sense of dread knowing any minute the truth is going to come out. This doesn't happen until after they've spent the night together in a foreseen and fast getting old plot twist.
The similarities of the ship, even some of the computer renderings of the vessel, are taken right out of Cameron's film. But where Cameron excelled in special effects, this director had less to work with and the visuals of the ship sailing and sinking are embarrassingly fake. At least the plot works. It gives us some believable and empathetic characters and dialogue while building up Vera's past to give her personality. Knowing Reynolds is the enemy, she still risks her life to safe his. "That's the difference between us," she says. "You would let me die. I can't do that." Even Reynolds, shown to be cruel, merciless, and cold, takes a surprising turn on the side of humanity to save a child and ultimately makes a heroic self-sacrifice. In doing so, he becomes not the cold-blooded killer but a human being. It's a twist not often taken but gives the viewer a little more to ponder than the thought that all villains are rotten through and through. It's also fun to watch First Officer Townsend mock Vera because she's a woman and later let a few romantic sparks fly. The last shot of the film is touching as she sat huddled up against him in the lifeboat.
Obviously fake computer animation and poor costuming aside, the film has a lot of violence. Numerous men are shot and killed with bloody effects. A man has his neck snapped. A German terrorist hits a man repetitively with his revolver. Blood is seen on objects and dead bodies; Vera at the climax follows bloody handprints into the bowl of the ship. A man's hand is cut with a knife in a struggle. There are several explosions in and around the ship; a submarine is torpedoed and collapses to the bottom. Several drowned bodies are shown underwater. One disconcerting scene not overly graphic but horrifying is when a lifeboat is unable to get away from Britannic's undertow. The lifeboat and its occupants are thrown directly into the path of the propellers. Language isn't a problem (a scattering of minor profanities and a few mild abuses of deity) but sensuality is. Vera comes into Reynolds' room late one night and undresses, unthinkable considering she believes him to be a chaplain.
He helps her remove her shirt, and brief upper nudity (from the side and possibly reflected in the mirror) is seen before they kiss. This is the proverbial fly in the pudding. Otherwise the film would be worthwhile, since many people can overlook violence. But this unfortunate scene makes the rest of the film disappointing. Considering the role he is asked to play, Reynolds actually does a masterful job of deceiving people. He comes up with some surprisingly correct answers toward spiritual questions. Does God approve of war? Would something I did make God punish my child? Must war always be impartial? Even though the right answer comes from the lips of a cold-blooded assassin, they are truth. I guess it just goes to show God can speak truth through anyone.