It is 1844. In the remote penal colony of Van Diemen's Land, a barefoot Aboriginal girl sits for a portrait in a red silk dress. She is Mathinna, the adopted daughter of the island's governor, Sir John Franklin, and his wife, Lady Jane, and the subject of a grand experiment in civilization — one that will determine whether science, Christianity and reason can be imposed in the place of savagery, impulse and desire.
A quarter of a century passes. Somewhere in the Arctic, Sir John Franklin has disappeared with his crew and two ships on an expedition to find the fabled Northwest Passage. The people of England are horrified by reports of cannibalism filtering back from search parties, no one more so than the most celebrated novelist of the day, Charles Dickens, for whom Franklin's story becomes a means to plumb the frozen depths of his own life.
As several lives become joined by unexpected events and tragedies, Wanting transforms into a stunning contemporary meditation on the ways in which desire — and its denial — shape all our lives.