The Marchioness – A Survivors Story Review: Ferry Tragic

October 14, 2009 by  
Filed under - Home, Reviews

3.5THE MARCHIONESS – A SURVIVOR’S STORY: Tuesday 13th October, BBC One, 11:35pm Alert Me

Following a man’s quest for closure on an “unbearable burden? sounds dramatic and sappy at best.

But The Marchioness and Me—A Survivor’s Story provides straightforward coverage and a poignant perspective of Jonathon Phang’s reconciliation with the tragedy in its 20th anniversary year.

Phang, then a 23-year-old photographer’s agent for the likes of Naomi Campbell and Jerry Hall, hosted a birthday bash on a Thames riverboat for his friend and business partner Antonio de Vasconcellos on 20 August 1989. For those that do not know the harrowing tale, the party lasted 20 minutes when the Marchioness collided with the dredger Bowbelle and sank near Southwark Bridge. Out of the 138 guests, 51 died. A Marine Accident Investigation report blamed poor look-outs on both vessels.

Twenty years on, Phang—now a 43-year-old TV presenter and fashion agent with a confident façade—is grappling with what he calls “survivor’s guilt.? He lost his entire social circle in one night. And for that, he blames himself. Since the incident, Phang has isolated himself from the other survivors and refuses to seek therapy. Parentless after his father passed away in 1990 and his mother in 2002, Phang finds himself alone

But as the 20th anniversary approaches, Phang is ready to open up via his personal documentary. “It is about cleansing and closure and getting over it,? an aged, stout Phang tells us at the show’s onset.

What ensues is a series of reunions, starting with survivor Freddie, who offers us an alternative angle to the popularized story. From Freddie’s perspective, we learn that the press ignored the death of his 19-year-old cousin, a mere student, in exchange for sensationalized reports on the deceased middle class yuppies. From that critical bit, the documentary scuffles on, magnifying Phang’s emotional turmoil.

Heart-wrenching scenes span Phang’s trip back out onto the murky Thames and a visit to Bowbelle wreck in search of some kind of justice. But the big tear jerker is the finale. After finally seeing a therapist, Phang is suddenly inspired to embrace his knack for party-planning and partake in the 20th Memorial. Following a touching ceremony at Suffolk Cathedral, the documentary concludes on a snapshot of the survivors gathered around a dining table with glasses raised.

Danielle Jacoby