The Life and Mystery of First Officer William Murdoch
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Film Data

Country: United Kingdom
Release date: April 2012
Director: Jon Jones
Cast: Ben Bishop, Glen Blackhall and Ruth Bradley

Plot: The world's largest ship, the Titanic, meets with disaster when it strikes an iceberg on its maiden voyage.

Trivia: The first film about the sinking of the RMS Titanic to be shot entirely on digital video.

Titanic (2012)
Brian McCardie

Brian McCardie as Murdoch

Titanic (TV series) is a £11 million four-part television costume drama and one of two large budget television dramas involving the Titanic to be released for the centenary of the disaster in April 2012. The other is Titanic: Blood and Steel.

The series was created by producer Nigel Stafford-Clark and written by Julian Fellowes and was filmed in Budapest. It became notable and also criticised for showing the ship sinking four times from the perspectives of different passengers, creating confusion for many viewers.

The Captain (David Calder) and two unidentified officers.

47 year old Brian McCardie, a Scottish actor from Glasgow (who appeared in films Rob Roy, Speed 2, The Damned United), plays First Officer Murdoch. According to an article in The Scottish Sun (11 March 2012), the actor said the following:

"He was responsible for saving many of the survivors because he took the decision that not only women and children would be allowed on the lifeboats. He said if there were no more women or children around then men could get on some of the lifeboats as well. I hope this portrayal may rehabilitate him because it shows his doubts about the captain's decision-making while Murdoch remained completely professional and loyal. He had serious doubts — and after the ship hit the iceberg he did try to save as many lives as he could. He's not been portrayed particularly well in some other dramatisations. After the sinking there were two witnesses who said they saw him shoot himself. But there are a host of other witnesses who say he didn't shoot himself. So I think he's been ill-served. The people of Dalbeattie are very proud of him."

Brian McCardie as First Officer Murdoch shouting orders during the iceberg collision. According to McCardie this interpretation shows the 'herioc' side of Murdoch.

"He fires a gun out to sea to try to bring people to their senses because they were going to rush him and there aren't enough lifeboats. He's trying to help them and save them. That's one of those mob rule situations where if he didn't fire that gun they would probably tear him limb from limb. People were panicking that they were going to die."

Brian McCardie: "He fires a gun out to sea to try to bring people to their senses."

McCardie made a journey to Murdoch's hometown after being cast.

"He's seen there as very much a hero. There's a memorial plaque. I drew inspiration while I was there from looking out to the sea. He left for that sea when he was 15. His father was a sea captain, his grandfather's four brothers were all sea captains, and he spent his life at sea."

You can read the full article on McCardie here.

Julian Fellowes is an English actor,
novelist, film director and screenwriter,
as well as a Conservative peer.

In a article of Friday, February 24, 2012, a U.K. network boss Stafford-Clark is said to believe "the famous account of first officer William Murdoch's dog saving lives by barking to alert a nearby ship to the location of lifeboats is false." In an interivew for the March (2012) issue of Reader's Digest he said "Unfortunately, it's a great tale without any basis in fact. There's no evidence that Murdoch even had a dog on board." (Hollywood article here)

On March 20, several newspapers ran headlines regarding how writer Julian Fellows (Downtown Abbey) had criticised James Cameron's portrayal and wanted to set matters right.

"That was very unfair how Murdoch was depicted. He wasn’t cowardly. He fired the pistol to just stop a potential riot. It was suddenly getting out of hand, and he fired it in the air. That’s not being cowardly. I don’t think you can just say, 'Well, we’ll make this guy a villain – he’ll do. I think with real people you have a kind of imperative to be true to who they were. I don't think you can take someone who was moral and decent and make them do something immoral and indecent. I would feel uncomfortable doing that. So we do have Murdoch, and we have him firing a pistol, [but] there is a little bit of setting the record straight." (Radio Times)

Actor Brian McCardie

Around the same time actor Brian McCardie provided more information on his portrayal in the series:

“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.

Brian McCardie as William
Murdoch (2012). (Click to enlarge)

“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.... 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.”

Brian McCardie as William Murdoch (2012).
(Click to enlarge)

“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... He said: “There are so many different opinions that there can’t be one definitive one which will please all the aficionados. 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. 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....There is a massive industry in Titanic memorabilia. I have never had to hand over a hat with such care in my life.” (Daily Record)

The Goofs

Brian McCardie as William
Murdoch (2012). (Click to enlarge)

Despite it being pitched as "a highly researched [and] detailed portrayal" of the disaster the end result was far from it, including its depiction of William Murdoch.

Titanic researcher and author Paul Lee, in film goof section of his website described Fellowes as setting "himself up for quite a monumental fall" by describing the series as more accurate than Camerons 1997 film, and wrote that he found himself "becoming increasingly annoyed at Fellowes's version and it is only through an act of supreme tolerance that I sat through it." Among the glaring inaccuracies listed in his indepth review is "a boat deck that only show three lifeboat stations when there should be four" despite Fellowes having described the sets as "incredible replicas". (48.)

As for the depiction of Murdoch he did not fare any better. In part two of the series he is portrayed as telling Annie Desmond that First class will be full. As Paul Lee states "in fact it wasn't, and none of the three classes were 100% occupied. The ship could carry 3547 people, but there were only about 2200 on the maiden voyage." (48.)

Brian McCardie as William
Murdoch (2012). (Click to enlarge)

Paul Lee also picks up on the "disgusting misrepresentation" of the Duff-Gordons who come across as "snooty and arrogant" with lifeboat no.1 is shown being the first lowered when it was in fact the fourth on that side. Paul Lee also notes that contrary to the way the scene is portrayed "the man in charge of this boat was actually Murdoch (and not Lowe as it would seem here, whose Welsh accent comes and goes in this drama) who was senior to Lightoller and could countermand his 'women and children only' directive."(48.)

Brian McCardie as William Murdoch (2012).
(Click to enlarge)

In part 4 of the series, depicting April 15th, Paul Lee mentions that Murdoch is shown asking "how fast the ship is going, and he says 'just over 21 knots.' Neglecting the fact that neither Wilde nor Murdoch would be on the bridge at the same time, Murdoch is wrong- the ship was going at 22.5 knots. Wilde says that the sea is 'Like a mill pond' and Murdoch states that there would be no foam at the base of a rock or an iceberg. This is actually a crude approximation of the conversation between Lightoller and Captain Smith at about 9pm on the bridge. One wonders why Murdoch worries about foam at the base of 'a rock.' I didn't know there were such things as floating rocks."(48.)

Then after the collusion Murdoch gives an instruction to "Find Captain Smith and tell him whats happened". However it is most likely that Smith was in his quarters at the time of the impact and according to most accounts rushed on to the bridge immediately after. he is also not shown closing the water tight doors in this version.

Brian McCardie as William Murdoch (2012).
(Click to enlarge)

But most critically, Murdoch is incorrectly shown loading a lifeboat and firing a gun on "A" deck. As Paul Lee notes, "1st Officer Murdoch was never on "A" deck that night." And in regards to firing a gun, Lee writes: "If Murdoch did fire a gun, it certainly wasn't here. He was never on A deck. His weapon firing, still controversial, would have happened in the area of boats "A" and "C" - forward on the boat deck." (48.)