TV Writer Rani Jadfa urges everyone to watch the underrated sci-fi period drama 1899, finding it thrilling and suspenseful despite its cancellation by Netflix
1899 is a sci-fi period piece that crosses over into genres of mystery, romance, and thriller. This show will keep you on the edge of your seat across the eight episodes through its suspenseful crafting and brilliant storytelling. Sadly, it has been lost in the depths of the Netflix overload, but I am here to fish it out of the darkness.
1899 follows a group of (apparently) estranged travellers on a steamship who are all roped into a much larger enigma as they discover a second ship abandoned in the open sea – and that’s just the first episode! It focuses on Maura Franklin (Emily Beecham), a British doctor travelling alone who is introduced to us through a mysterious dream sequence. However, this show is definitely devised to be an ensemble cast: every character has their own story that is explored and expanded upon as the show develops.
I will say this now: this show has been cancelled. So if you are going in looking for answers to the unknown you might be disappointed. Fans were furious with Netflix’s choices, especially because of the shattering cliffhanger that the finale hangs upon. Nevertheless, I still believe that it is worth a watch, allowing you to take a peek inside the great minds of Jantje Friese and Baron Bo Odar. And, if you like what you see, the creators also have a show called Dark, which matches the tone of 1899 and (more importantly) was not cancelled.
One of my favourite aspects of the show is the creative usage of language: Friese and Odar incorporate a huge range of languages and cultures into the show, adding to the rising tension throughout as not every character can understand each other. I would highly recommend that you watch the show without subtitles. Subtitles are provided on top of the show when needed but being able to experience the genuine confusion of language barriers skyrockets the frustration of a viewer that is vital to a great mystery.
Every episode rises to a climax, introduces a hundred new questions, and dangles the viewers with a major cliffhanger – all classic mystery tropes. Some may find it to be too crafted and deem it a technique only used to keep audience engagement. But as someone who is not the biggest fan of binge culture (except when it comes to Brooklyn 99) I quite enjoy spacing out my viewings and indulging in theories, trying to figure out what it all means – I was almost always wrong, but it’s still an enjoyable way to experience the show.
The CGI is some of the best I’ve ever seen (joint with The Rings of Power, which was released earlier this year) and likely explains the €60 million budget. They used Volume, which is a virtual production stage, that allowed the actors to feel fully immersed in the story’s world, to the extent that some actually ended up feeling seasick while filming.
It was supposed to be a three-season structure like the classic formation of a three-act film; so technically we only received the first act of Friese and Odar’s masterpiece. Nevertheless, it is not unheard of that a show is brought back from cancellation due to an increase in viewership (yes, I am talking about Brooklyn 99 again). So I pose to you, wonderful reader: watch this hidden gem and help me bring this ship out of the abyss of Netflix cancellations.