How Nine Source Languages Played a Central Role in Netflix’s “1899”

Netflix Show 1899 Localization

If ever there was a perfect example of internationalization in its most integral meaning, it’s Netflix’s series 1899. Unlike many other notable audiovisual works set in the past, where the original audio is in English, 1899 has nine original languages, and a larger number of translated versions: 14 dubbed languages and 32 subtitled versions.

Knowing it takes hundreds of people and a few logistics masters to make any film or series a reality, how do you create a multiple source language series for a global streaming service? 

It all started with the series writers’ and producers’ vision of a ship full of immigrants, their different languages and cultural traits as a major component of the story. Actors came from all over Europe, as well as Hong Kong. The series creators wanted a truly international cast to speak in their native languages.

Show co-creator, executive producer and head writer Jantje Friese said of the language component in the “Making of 1899” featurette that “1899 is really a complicated construct in terms of how to deal with different languages. We have a crew from all kinds of different countries, but our main cast is also from all kinds of different countries, and so are the characters in the show.”

It Took a Global Village

During what can best be described as a colossal production, the creators/directors had to trust that the actors were delivering the lines as written. They had seen the translated dialogues next to the English original, but could not verify the accuracy for languages they did not know. The solution was to bring multiple “language assistants” to the set to ensure characters were portrayed as intended.

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The actors themselves had to get used to hearing many languages without understanding. In a way, that helped with the realism imbued in the scenes where passengers are literally and figuratively on the same boat. In many cases, actors resorted to body language the way it happens in real life when there’s no interpreter to help.

Although filming was done mostly in a few studios in Germany, multiple teams across several countries worked on different aspects of pre-production, production, and post-production. Credit for the language component is given to Cinescript Translations, a Berlin agency specializing in the audiovisual industry.

Founded by Liane Kirsch, Cinescript Translations has been around since 1988. The series also credits by name the language assistants and main translators who made the multilingual series production possible. 

The language coordinator was Farina Biel. Translators were Doris Wing-Yung Ho (Cantonese), Anna Winder Salling (Danish), Pierre Puget (French), Maria Johansen (Norwegian), Agata Malesinska (Polish), and Darío Madrona López Gallego (Spanish). Language assistants were Veslemøy Rustad Holseter (Norwegian), Agnieszka Kruk (Polish), Stella Krämer Horta and Daniela Bonaparte (Portuguese), and Candela Cañellas Daigeler (Spanish).

1899 was released in November 2022 and is available in 58 countries. It has received some award nominations, including the Critics’ Choice Television Awards for Best Foreign Language Series. Despite the award nominations and rave reviews from viewers across the world, Netflix announced on January 2, 2023 that the show will not be renewed for a second season.