1899 Review: Why Netflix’s New Historical Thriller is Worth Your Time
One of Netflix‘s newest additions is also one of its most eagerly awaited titles: 1899. The same people who brought us Dark, one of the best mind-bending shows of recent years, are behind this new series. Undoubtedly, 1899 was enjoyable; you can see our review here.
The writers of 1899 could not have done a better job if they had been explicitly told to create a TV show that is impossible to watch while browsing on your phone. The eight episodes of this mystery series require complete focus. Its large ensemble of characters speaks different languages, and the plot jumps between flashbacks, hallucinations, strange visual patterns, and eye-widening cliffhanger twists. Readers’ glasses will be necessary for viewers who do not speak German, Spanish, French, Swedish, Polish, or other languages.
They’ll also want them because 1899, a fantastic-looking show with an intriguing mystery to solve, comes from the creators of the popular Netflix series Dark. The Kerberos, a steamer that carried 1,400 passengers from Southampton to New York City around the turn of the 20th century, is the subject of this narrative. When the Kerberos receives a set of enigmatic coordinates, it sets off in pursuit of the ghost ship, another of the company’s ships that vanished four months ago. This is when things start to become complex.
For the passengers of the Kerberos, things were already tricky because it was found that everyone had secrets, which were exposed through flashbacks in Lost-style drama. Give or take the issue of character names, it’s done quite efficiently, and it quickly becomes simple to distinguish individuals who make up the ensemble.
The star of the cast is Emily Beecham from The Pursuit of Love, who plays British doctor Maura Franklin, who suffers from intrusive visions and is searching for her lost brother. Aneurin Barnard of Peaky Blinders and Andreas Pietschmann of Dark, who plays the ship’s captain Eyk Larsen and Daniel, respectively, support Beecham. They all take their jobs very seriously, and they can pull off some rather absurd events in the latter episodes. The story becomes even more interesting when a family of Swedish Christians, two Spanish brothers, a geisha, some French honeymooners, a wealthy woman traveling alone who speaks many languages, a stowaway, a crew from several countries, and a Polish engine room worker are included.
A brief but welcome surprise appears in the engine room in the form of British comic duo The Pin (Ben Ashenden and Alec Owen), who play a pair of steerage workers who occasionally crack a smile.
In 1899, which deals with solid emotion, grave terror, and shocking twists, liveness is relatively rare. Its characters’ terrible backstories could easily belong in a soap opera if it didn’t look so good or take so many genuinely unexpected turns. But it’s much more than just a collection of depressing soap storylines at sea since there are occasional glimpses of tremendous oddity and persistent concerns about what’s happening.
The upstairs-downstairs tales with themes of romance, class, sexuality, and violence in those novels begin in familiar territory but quickly devolve into the authors’ unrestrained imaginations. We are guided by hints to make each incremental discovery, and we are kept wondering until the very end. Even as 1899 generally straddles the tantalizing vs. irritating line, you’ll still have unanswered questions after the credits for the finale. And anticipating the release of Season 2 to provide the answers.
You might also find yourself returning to the soundtrack, which features both Ben Frost’s atmospheric score with its wiggy feel and the psychedelic, retro needle drops that precede each episode’s massive twists. It is not kidding around with Jefferson Airplane, Blue Oyster Cult, Black Sabbath, Echo, Bunnymen, Jimi Hendrix, David Bowie, etc.
Knowing that if you enjoyed the producers’ previous series Dark, Netflix’s The OA, Lost, Westworld, or any of those shows that offer with one hand while mystifying with the other, you’d probably enjoy this well-cast, good-looking, atmospheric, and the twisted plot makes it difficult to say too much. And after you’ve seen it, please explain what was going on.
1899 is available to stream now on Netflix.