Actor Brian McCardie hails officer blamed for Titanic disaster as a hero
WHEN Brian McCardie took on the role of William McMaster Murdoch in the TV epic Titanic, he travelled to the first officer’s hometown of Dalbeattie to see the memorial erected in his memory.
Walking in the seaman’s footsteps, 100 years after his death in the world’s most notorious maritime disaster, he was determined to do him justice – even if it meant risking the wrath of award-winning writer Julian Fellowes.
In the script for the new four-part drama, Murdoch was supposed to speak with a cut-glass English accent but Brian felt compelled to play it in his native Scots.
He said: “I felt a huge responsibility to him and I made the director aware in rehearsal of the amount of research I had done.
“There was there was a bit pressure, at one point, for me to do a posh English accent.
“Being an officer on the Titanic would have been the equivalent of being a concierge at a five-star hotel but Murdoch had been at sea since he was 15.
“You listen to survivor accounts and the officers’ accents are all over the place, as they would be when they spent so long at sea.
“I couldn’t see how he would end up talking like Jeremy Irons so I did my own accent and thought if I get into trouble with the director or Julian Fellowes then so be it, my first duty was to William McMaster Murdoch.
“While it’s still acting, he was a real person who died tragically young and you want to pay him the respect you would want someone to pay you after you die.”
This attention to detail is crucial for Brian to set the record straight about Master Mariner Murdoch.
Millions will remember him from James Cameron’s 1987 movie blockbuster in which Murdoch – played by Ewan Stewart – was portrayed as a disgraced officer who took a bribe, shot a passenger and himself.
Cameron has subsequently apologised for the Hollywood version of events and 20th Century Fox gave a £5000 cheque to the Murdoch Memorial Prize Fund.
Brian immersed himself in the lore of the RMS Titanic for the show and the evidence points to Murdoch helping save many lives when the “unsinkable” ship sank.
He said: “Murdoch has been so maligned and so badly portrayed.
“What he tried to do was swerve around the iceberg, but he swerved too late.
“Apparently, if he had not deviated course and they hit the iceberg straight on there’s no way it would have sank. So, by trying to save them, it could be argued he sunk it. But he was trying to do the right thing.
“Two witnesses say he shot himself in the head and the James Cameron movie showed that but there are dozens of others who say who say that was a different officer.
“Some saw Murdoch getting tangled up trying to loosen the last lifeboat and he went head first into the water.
“Although some would say Murdoch was responsible for the sinking of the ship, directly or indirectly, he was putting people into lifeboats on the starboard side.
“The captain said women and children first. Some people took that to mean women and children only and sent out lifeboats built for 66 people with only eight or 12 people on board.
“Murdoch said women and children first – and if there are no more, get men on there too, so he is responsible probably for two-thirds of the people who survived.
“He probably saved about 300-400 lives.”
Titanic, which will be broadcast in 86 countries worldwide, is Britain’s most expensive TV drama with a budget of £11million.
Filmed at Stern Studios in Budapest, Hungary, it features 2500 extras and the biggest purpose-built indoor water tank in Europe.
Brian, 47, whose previous credits include Rob Roy, Speed 2: Cruise Control, Low Winter Sun, The Damned United and Case Histories, said: “There are four episodes, each told from a different passenger’s point of view. So we would film a scene and then have to film it from three different perspectives. We filmed one scene featuring about 30 of us 81 times.
“It took something like nine days to heat the water in the tank to a very tepid temperature to allow actors to get in it.
“They built about an eighth of the ship, including the boat deck, bridge, dining room and cabins.”
Brian, who has just finished filming new Irvine Welsh movie Filth alongside James McAvoy, now claims he’s had enough of the Titanic.
He said: “I researched it for two and half months but that’s enough. I don’t care if they find something major related to it, well except a set of binoculars.
“Three days before they sailed, the company parachuted in another officer and everyone else was bumped down.
“The guy who had the binoculars was shunted off the ship and one of the reasons it hit the iceberg was because they couldn’t find the binoculars. They were in his locker on the ship but he had the keys.”
As for the much-maligned Murdoch, Brian hopes he will be able to rest easy at last.
He said: “There are so many different opinions that there can’t be one definitive one which will please all the aficionados.
“But I could walk down the streets of Dalbeattie again. I didn’t do Murdoch a disservice and I was very clear about that all the way through it.”
■Titanic is on STV tonight at 9pm.
I gave up research - I got a bit obsessed
When the Titanic slipped below the waves of the North Atlantic on April 15, 1912, it was just the beginning the great ship’s story.
It was supposed to usher in a new era of ocean travel in a vessel claimed to be *unsinkable.
The Titanic’s *passenger list included the fabulously rich and the desperately poor seeking a new life in America.
There is so much information about the tragedy and its aftermath, Brian had to stop researching it midway through filming.
He said: “There are thousands of websites, documentaries, films and books about it.
“But I had to have a cut-off point. I was halfway through filming when I found out a tiny detail and I was annoyed because we had already filmed that scene.
“Then I realised it was actually insignificant and I had to get a grip.”
The interest is such that a close eye was kept on costumes and props branded with shipping company White Star Line livery.
Brian said: “There is a massive industry in Titanic memorabilia. I have never had to hand over a hat with such care in my life.”