Based on the Walter Lord novel of the same name, A Night to Remember is far and away the most definitive and honest telling of this famous and world-shaking disaster. Flaws it may have, but these largely revolve around a lack of special effects technology available at the time, and a lack of historical evidence due the fact the wreck had not yet been discovered. Despite these minor quibbles, the film is probably the only one to loyally adhere to telling the truth about what happened that night; and it does so in a most compelling way.
Unlike the smartingly awful James Cameron schlock boiler, ANTR doesn't pack a spectacular special effects punch - but nor does it pack a spectacularly corny and improbable love story concocted with teenagers in mind. The producers of ANTR understood that you didn't need a fictitious love story to heighten the tragedy of that night - the bitter irony of the real events sufficed.
And it is this irony and tragedy that the filmmakers brought out absorbingly well. The comprehensive book by Walter Lord was consulted down to the letter; so the story is told as authentically as possible. With a great script involving mainly real historical characters, perfect casting, and performances that show the actors were engrossed in their roles, the film really does shine. The snappy, economical directing is both proof of the lack of pretensiousness of the producers, as well as being extremely effective in bringing out the meaning in each scene. This makes for intelligent and gripping viewing.
Watch out for the poignant scenes in which the crew attempt to contact the nearby Californian to no avail, and Captain Smith walks to the railing and implores God to help them; the scene where the Captain calls "every man for himself", then walks into the wheelhouse just before it dips underwater; and the gripping scene in which Thomas Andrews (the Titanic's designer), a broken man, waits in the smoking room for the end, determined to go down with his creation. All these scenes are powerful, authentic and sincere; scenes in which all the various emotions aroused by such a disaster are brought out very clearly and movingly.
The special effects, although not so brilliant for today, were fantastic for the times; half the ship was actually constructed for life-size shooting, and a large model was also built, complete with miniature little row boats featuring motorised oars, for the long shots. So the maximum effort was made to make as realistic a depiction of the disaster as possible. And, in fact, the interior scenes of the ship are perfectly authentic, and the audience feels that they are actually aboard the Titanic. Only in the long shots, where a model was used, does the film look noticeably dated.
So by sticking as close as possible to the survivor's accounts featured in the Walter Lord novel, and by avoiding modern cinematic clichés, A Night to Remember remains the only Titanic film to provide a genuine account of the sinking of the great ship that is not marred by superficial Hollywood garbage. It tells the story, as it happened, of an event that changed mankind's attitudes toward his own creations; and as such, it brings to the screen the full impact of what this disaster really meant to the world in, as mentioned, a very compelling, poignant and honest way. It is a true testament to British film making.
As a footnote, many actual survivors of the Titanic were on set as the film was being made; and the musical pig in the lifeboat scenes was the actual one from the real disaster. In addition, the Titanic's fourth officer Boxhall was a technical adviser to the production. And the film's producer was there, as a small child, when the actual Titanic was launched in Belfast. This kind of authenticity makes this movie almost a living documentary.
Intelligent, honest and compelling, A Night to Remember is at least one of the best historical films ever made, and is well worth anybody's time. Everyone is bound to get something out of this movie; and indeed it is a powerhouse for anyone with an interest in the Titanic or just history in general. A totally underrated gem.