1841. In the remote penal colony of Van Diemen's Land, a barefoot aboriginal girl sits for her 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 civilisation - one that will determine whether science, Christianity, and reason can be imposed in place of savagery, impulse and desire. Years pass. Sir John Franklin has disappeared, along with his crew and two ships, on an expedition to find the fabled Northwest Passage. England is horrified as reports of cannibalism filter 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 soul. As several lives become conjoined by unexpected events and tragedies, Wanting transforms into a remarkable meditation on the ways in which desire - and its denial - shape our lives.