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Sunday, 23 November 2014

Cumbrian hero from below decks is hero of new Titanic film

A film about the Titanic’s doomed voyage will be a memorial to the bravery of one of Cumbria’s unsung heroes and those who died alongside him.

Joseph Bell photo
Joseph Bell

Joseph Bell, from Farlam, near Brampton, was the ship’s 51-year-old chief engineer when it sank on April 15, 1912, claiming more than 1,500 lives.

Legend has it that he and others refused to desert their posts as they battled to keep the stricken vessel afloat and to maintain power right up to the last minute.

Saving the Titanic is the first feature-length HD drama documentary to focus on the work of the men below deck.

Irish filmmaker Keith Farrell, its creator and co-producer, said: “I hope it will reawaken people’s interest in Joseph Bell because he really is the hero of this story.

“He sacrificed so much to save so many lives. I think Cumbrians should be really proud of him.”

Mr Farrell decided to make the film after listening to the stories of shipyard workers in Belfast in the 1990s.

“I was very moved by what I heard and determined to some day give a voice to the men below deck,” he said.

Bell will be played by respected Irish actor David Wilmot (The Guard; The Tudors; Intermission) who also stars alongside Jude Law and Keira Knightley in Anna Karenina.

But Bell is not the only Cumbrian hero to be represented in the film. Whitehaven-born Jonathan Shepherd, the ship’s junior assistant second engineer, will be played by Hugh O’Conor who has performed on the big screen with Daniel Day-Lewis and Liam Neeson.

Based on eyewitness accounts and using computer-generated imagery, the film is the untold story of nine of the engineering crew as they work among the huge, coal-fired furnaces heating the boilers and massive dynamos. They kept the electricity supply going for as long as they could, allowing its pumps to keep working and the lights to blaze until just minutes before it sank. Historians say the death toll would have been higher had they not done so.

Bell was born in Farlam and went to school in Carlisle after his family moved to Stanwix.

The film is produced by Tile Films Ltd and Gebrueder Beetz Filmproduktion and is scheduled for release on the 100th anniversary of the tragedy. It will premiere at the Jameson Dublin International Film Festival tonight and will be screened in April on Irish TV as well as in the US. In the UK it is expected to be shown in April on the digital History Channel as Heroes of the Titanic.

Ann Freer, 46, lives in Bell’s former family home – Grade II-listed Farlam House – and has researched his life in some depth. She said: “I’m happy that his heroics are being celebrated.”

Barrie Bell Hodgson, a relative of Bell living in Cheshire, has been campaigning for a larger permanent monument to him in the centenary year of the tragedy. There are memorials to Bell and his engineers in Southampton and Merseyside but none in Carlisle.

A memorial service is being held in Farlam parish church on April 15 at 2pm, with an exhibition of memorabilia associated with the Titanic in the church.

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