Title: 1899 (Netflix – 2022)
Creator: Baran bo Odar & Jantje Friese
Director: Baran bo Odar
Writer: Jantje Friese
Producer: Baran bo Odar & Jantje Friese
Cast: Emily Beecham, Aneurin Bernard, Andreas Pietschmann, Miguel Bernardeau, Maciej Musiał, Anton Lesser, Rosaline Craig, Lucas Lynggaard Tønnesen, Clara Rosager, Maria Erwolter, Yann Gael, Mathilde Olliver, José Pimentão, Isabella Wei, Gabby Wong, Jonas Bloquet, Fflyn Edwards, Isaak Dentler, Martin Greis Rosenthal
Imagine this: You wake up on a steam-driven cruise ship on its way across the Atlantic. The year is 1899, and you are running from something. You cannot say what it is, as your memories are hazy. Your fellow passengers seem to have their own stories to tell.
There is the newlywed and miserable upper-class couple. That poor Danish immigrant girl is pregnant and is constantly being watched by her zealous mother. There is a geisha here, too, in traditional Japanese kimono. And what about the scarred German sea captain and his crew?
And when the ship, owned by the mysterious “company”, receives a signal from its sister vessel that has been missing at sea for four months, the captain decides to turn off course and investigate. They soon find it, an identical cruise liner. It is in a poor state, with every soul aboard missing except for two: a mute boy (played by Fflyn Edwards) locked in a closet (from the outside), clutching a strange stone pyramid, and a man in the trench coat (played by Aneurin Barnard) wielding anachronistic technology.
And then people start to die.
1899 is a supernatural suspense drama series created by Baran bo Odar and Jantje Friese, who also gave us the excellent three-season Netflix series Dark. In 1899, the story is taken out to sea, with increased supernatural elements and a more intense, in-your-face narrative. In some ways, it reminded me of a more focused Victorian era Lost, with a large ensemble cast of characters with various backstories and languages trapped together in the same place.
As an ensemble series with characters from widely different backgrounds and nationalities, 1899 uses languages as an excellent means of storytelling. Instead of having everyone speak English for easier communication, you will hear a myriad of languages, such as German, Portuguese, Danish, Norwegian, French, Polish and Cantonese. The resulting difficulties in communication are used in the narrative as a method of exposition, such as characters speaking their mind to someone they know can’t understand them, laying their internal struggles bare.
The various characters’ backgrounds and the mysteries surrounding the ship itself easily pulled me into the story. However, despite being an ensemble series, there are some characters that stand out more than others, such as Andreas Pietschmann, as the emotionally and physically scarred captain of the ship, and Emily Beecham as the traumatized psychologist, who are both excellent in their leading roles.
It is hard to write about a series like 1899 without going into spoilers. It is a dark and brooding story, character-driven and with overt supernatural elements from the first episode. For the most part, the supernatural parts of the story fuel the mystery, but once in a while, they do overstay their welcome, with mysteries heaped upon supernatural mysteries taking some of the attention away from the characters’ storylines.
All in all, 1899 is an excellent supernatural mystery thriller. It is violent, dark and unapologetically devoid of humor. If you’ve watched the excellent Dark, you will easily recognize Baran bo Odar’s fingerprints all over its eight episodes.