Brittanic a Weak Sister to Titanic

Britannic -- the latest made-for-TV film offering from
Fox Family Channel -- has ambitions as big as the boat that inspired it, but it falls
slightly short of the mark.

An obvious attempt to play off the immense popularity of
1998 theatrical release Titanic, the telefilm is based on the true story of Titanic's
sister ship, Brittanic, which was pressed into service as a hospital boat during
World War I and destroyed by the Germans.

The focus of the story is Vera Campbell (Amanda Ryan), an
agent of British military intelligence posing as nanny to the wife of the British
ambassador to France, Lady Lewis (Jacqueline Bisset). The Lewis family is traveling aboard
the ship to meet their father at his new posting.

The British believe a German spy is snooping around the
ship to determine if it is sending secret arms shipments to troops in Cairo, Egypt (which
it is). Lewis, fresh out of espionage school, is essentially charged with the task because
her superiors needed a last-minute replacement.

Further complicating her role is the fact that she had been
a passenger aboard Titanic, losing her husband when the mighty liner struck the

But that fact is used only once in the first 20 minutes of
the movie -- to explain why Vera fainted when she came aboard ship, the reason behind her
cool relationship with Captain Barret (John Rhys-Davies) -- and it is then quickly

As Vera snoops around the ship, an undercover German agent
(Edward Atterton) -- with the help of Irish Republicans -- is plotting to take over the
vessel. The agent is posing as the ship's chaplain, Chaplain Reynolds. The two
don't discover they are opponents until their fast friendship blossoms into a
physical relationship, which takes an interesting turn when the inevitable act of sabotage

The film starts off rather unpromisingly, offering up
several tired clichés within its dialogue and going out of its way to intentionally
remind the viewer of Titanic.But it switches gears a half-hour in, when the
mutineers attempt to take over in a gripping scene more suited to a Tom Clancy thriller
than a seabound romance.

Unfortunately, the thrills don't last, and the film
sails back toward the safer seas of predictable sentiment and bittersweet endings.

What's most remarkable about Britannic is the
performance of the actors -- most notably Bissett and the gruff but lovable Rhys-Davies in
their supporting roles -- who manage to squeeze lively performances from a mainly mediocre

If you liked Titanic, you might want to take a
voyage on its sister ship, too. But don't expect to get swept away this time.

Britannic premieres Sunday, Jan. 9, at 8 p.m. on Fox

Mike Demenchuk has served as content manager of Broadcasting+Cable and Multichannel News since 2016. After stints as reporter and editor at Adweek, The Bond Buyer and local papers in New Jersey, he joined the staff of Multichannel News in 1999 as assistant managing editor and has served as the cable trade publication's managing editor since 2005. He edits copy and writes headlines for both the print magazine and website, wrangles the occasional e-newsletter and reviews TV shows from time to time. He's also the guy to bother with your guest blog, Fates & Fortunes and Freeze Frame submissions.