Sarah Drury

Culture notes: All shipshape

Culture notes: All shipshape
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The museum Titanic Belfast (above) opened recently to commemorate the centenary of one of our best-loved disasters. If you think you know everything there is to know on the subject, or more than you really want to, think again. Hull 401, as she was known to Harland and Wolff, may yet prove to be the making of the city that famously said, ‘She was all right when she left here.’

In a building designed to echo the lines and forms of both ship and iceberg, overlooking the very slipways from which she and her sister ship Olympic were launched, the museum sets up a dialogue with the past in a way most large exhibitions find impossible.

From the first galleries, which build up a picture of the boom town that was Belfast at the turn of the 20th century, through to the closing film of the latest underwater exploration of the wreck, the initiative hardly falters. This is all the more surprising considering the dangers inherent in treating a subject that has crossed over the borders of fact into myth and legend. Such dangers have been adroitly circumnavigated by an intelligent use of interpretative aids, the most daring of which consists of a ride through a recreation of the shipyard in action.

This is an absorbing and imaginative tribute not just to a ship, her makers and those who sailed in her, but also to a period of energy and enterprise we shall probably never see the like of again.