1899 is a period drama which is set on a stream ship (the SS Kerberos) sailing in the Atlantic Ocean from England to New York City in the year 1899. This series, created by Jantje Friese and Barar Bo Odar, is a worthy successor to the German thriller Dark. However, if you are planning to binge-watch the eight (hour-long) episodes, then this 1899 review is worth reading.
It is a thriller laden with supernatural mysteries and has a good dose of science fiction, also. The cast (the people aboard the ship) includes a German sailor, an English doctor, a Chinese mother-daughter duo, a young French couple, etc. If you are a multi-genre and multilingual content fan, then 1899 is the perfect fit for you.
There are two things in particular that will help you draw a close parallel with the Titanic. Firstly the roaring engine and the grim ocean that portends what is to fall. And secondly, the near-perfect depiction of the European social structure is reflected in the form of French snobs, Danish workers, Polish and English coal shovelers, etc. However, the similarities end there, for 1899 is set thirteen years before Titanic, and here, the tragedies border on the supernatural.
Apart from the dark secrets and the oceans, the naming of the two ships is equally ominous. The main ship is named Cerberus. To a fan of Greek mythology, the name will at once strike a chord, and remind him of Cerberus, a multi-headed dog that is known to be the guard of Hades. The dog literally guards the gates of the underworld to prevent the dead from leaving. So when the main ship is named Cerberus, you already have inklings of what is to befall.
The sister ship that Cerberus encounters is named Prometheus. Prometheus as a name is equally ominous and named after the Titan, who is doomed to live through eternity after having its liver devoured by an eagle.
Coming to the episodes, each individual hour-long episode starts with one main character and gives his backstory. There are enough dirty secrets and mysteries in each episode, however, the narrative picks pace only when the SS Kerberos meets its sister ship that had mysteriously sank four months back. The individual episodes are good, but each ends with a song (a rock classic). It would have been great if the song had matched the happenings of the narrative, but unfortunately, it does not.
The pace picks up in the last few episodes after the sister ship is discovered and a young boy is rescued. Post that, all hell breaks loose as people begin to drop dead. Added to this, there are random ghost sightings, heavy fog, and people with memory loss and confusion. However, that is not all, the sudden deaths also cause a mutiny-like situation on the ship.
It is true that the plot does not have the novelty of Inception. But the mystery at the end and the twists and turns keep you hooked at the edge of your seat throughout.
Coming to the cast, most of the actors leave a particular mark on your mind. The captain of the ship, played by Andreas Pietschmann, is convincing in parts where he is haunted by visions that have a deep connection with his past. Yann Gael is good as the ex-soldier Jerome.
However, one of the prime reasons why the actors are unable to rise and shine in their individual roles is because all their character sketches are very similar to each other. All of them have secretive lives, all of them have dark trust to hide, and a menacing, ominous air surrounds all of them at all times. But as an ensemble their performance is wonderful.
The multilingual cast does speak out in long monologues in their native languages that the other boarders do not seem to understand. If not, the performances of the casts, the multigenre and multilingualism do enough to set the right mood of grim confusion that is to follow. However, it is quite difficult to comprehend why the other crew members keep nodding to long monologues in languages that they barely understand.
Without giving out any spoilers, it would not be wrong to say that 1899 is grim and dark. However, if you are a fan of mystery, this will give you enough food for thought. The plot itself does not give out enough. The victims do not reveal much beyond giving puzzled expressions and randomly blurting out the line, “None of this makes sense”.
In fact, the plot gets frustrating in places, with each character dropping dead just as he is about to unfold the mystery. The series satisfies only a part of the curiosities. It reveals what is happening, but it does not go the distance to explain why it is happening. However, in the digital age, with hundreds of internet sleuths and fans, hundreds of theories about the events on the steamship are bound to increase the curiosity quotient of prospective viewers.
Also, this series is worth watching if you like to unravel puzzles and keep guessing until the end. And last but not least, this series is a treat for the world’s polyglots. In this series, multilingualism is at its peak. If you have the ears for listening to five or six languages at a time, then Netflix 1899 is the series you have always been waiting for.