If you decide to set sail with 1899, a period saga centred on an ocean liner lost at sea, then be prepared to throw away your life jacket and drop anchor in a world of secrets and illusions. 1899 is not so much a drama, but more an enigmatic jigsaw puzzle.
From the makers of Dark, the time-flipping German sci-fi thriller that played no small part in convincing Netflix that subtitled shows can pull in major audiences, 1899 is much more interested in stirring up a mood of menace and bafflement than it is in straight-forward storytelling.
As elusive as a dream you can’t remember 20 minutes after you’ve woken up, it’s like a murder mystery weekend dreamt up by Salvador Dali.
To put some flesh on these floating bones, here’s a life raft of facts: everyone aboard the Cerberus, the ship that stumbles across its lost sister vessel Prometheus on a voyage to New York, has secrets stowed away in their locker, secrets that mean they are desperate not to turn back.
The meaning of Prometheus here? It could either be a spin on the Greek myth or a sly red herring, that’s just the way 1899 rolls.
The story, if that’s the right word, centres on Maura Franklin (Emily Beecham) who has received a letter from her brother, presumed lost on the Prometheus.
‘What is lost, will be found’ is written on the envelope, a message which connects her to Captain Larsen (Andreas Pietschmann), who also received a letter written in the same hand, with the same message.
Around this simple plot device swirls a whirlpool of symbolism involving beetles and triangles, the requisite sulky scary child, a Spanish stud with scars on his back (Elite’s Miguel Bernardeau), and a cast of curious characters from so many different countries you hope the subtitle department was on double-time.
Will any of them get out alive? You’d bet against it.
Some may find it self-indulgently obscure and its pacing too stately. But if you cast off your preconceptions of what a thriller should be, you’ll find yourself caught in 1899’s sinister undertow.
And at the very least you can have fun guessing which 1960s psychedelic rock nugget will play out over the credits. It’s Jefferson Airplane’s White Rabbit in the opener and it only gets weirder from there.
1899 launches on November 17 on Netflix.