The creators of the new Netflix series 1899 got the idea for the show — about a migrant ship bound for America more than a century ago — after finding a disturbing old photo, one that depicted a man in his underwear on the deck of a ship with a bloody hammer in his hands.
From there, 1899’s showrunners Jantje Friese and Baran bo Odar started to ask themselves questions about who that man might have been, how he got on the ship in the first place, and where he was headed. This was years ago now, by the way, back when the migrant crisis in Europe was particularly acute and Brexit was just coming to the forefront. And all of the sudden, the creators of the fan-favorite German-language Netflix series Dark had their next series on their hands.
Netflix series 1899
“It was that photo that really sparked the idea to tell a story about immigrants,” Odar said in a Netflix interview about the show, during which the migrant ship also crosses paths with another vessel in the ocean during its journey.
“The concept was that people of various nationalities, some of whom only spoke their own languages, find themselves on a steamer heading for America. My own family story is one of immigration. We were always traveling around the world, we never really settled. We don’t have any one home.”
The resulting 8-episode Netflix series unfolds like a much scarier Titanic.
1899 first begins with a very familiar kind of story. Onboard the migrant ship leaving the old world of Europe are people from all walks of life and from different social, economic, and even national origins from within Europe. The one thing that unites them: Their desire for a better future and a better life.
Trying to figure out 1899 after Episode 1 like pic.twitter.com/uWaZR0T4TY
— Netflix (@netflix) November 18, 2022
‘A mysterious riddle out on the ocean’
uses that simple beginning, though, as a jumping-off point for what turns into a deeply unsettling puzzle box of a Netflix series.
The original ship comes across another migrant ship adrift at sea — the Prometheus, which had been presumed lost. And while we can’t say much more than that without spoiling things, suffice it to say that what the original passengers discover turns their journey into an all-out nightmare.
“So the scene is set for a mysterious riddle out on the ocean,” actor Andreas Pietschmann says about 1899.
The story, he continues, is about family, relationships, trust, evolution, and existence. “It’s a thrilling mystery and a crazy drama with so many different themes which is what makes it so rich and enjoyable.”
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