A heavy, serious, and well-observed blend of murder-mystery, courtroom drama and character study, The Twelve is a slightly longwinded but nonetheless engaging Flemish thriller
This review of The Twelve is spoiler-free.
The Flemish drama The Twelve, or De Twaalf, is lots of things, but light isn’t one of them. It isn’t funny, it isn’t charming, it isn’t anything of that sort – it’s a heavy, serious, longwinded exploration of a heinous crime viewed not from the perspective of the perpetrator, the victims, or law enforcement, but the twelve ostensibly ordinary people sitting on the jury.
That perspective gives The Twelve some novelty. It’s unpacking thrown-together group dynamics, the decision-making process, and the knock-on effects of becoming intimate with the seedier side of humanity. To what extent the case effects these peoples’ personal lives is paramount here, and to what extent their personal lives affect their verdict equally so. With strict rules surrounding real-life jurors and what they’re allowed to reveal of the cases they decide on, there’s plenty that feels fresh here.
Commissioned by Belgian broadcaster Één and produced by Eyeworks Film, The Twelve arrives on Netflix in some territories – including the United States – this weekend. Directed by Wouter Bouvijn and written by Bert Van Dael and Sanne Nuyens, the show’s ten episodes detail the case of Frida Palmers, a woman accused of killing her best friend and her own child. The series quickly posits that impartiality among jurors is difficult if not impossible, and then seeks to justify that stance by honing in on the various individuals and those closest to them as they suddenly find themselves in charge of another person’s freedom.
In this way, The Twelve mashes together the one-more-episode pull of a good whodunit with the staying power of a character drama. The gradual unfolding of the case through testimonials and carefully researched details often gives the feeling of a documentary rather than a narrative series, and the structure of the season overall is carefully considered so that the audience remains as unsure as the characters all throughout. The accused is just as believable as a monster or as a victim herself, and there’s a sense of closure provided by the ending, which is all too rare among Netflix releases. A follow-up season would, presumably, concern a different crime and a different group of jurors, but the concept could be repeated many times over, and it wouldn’t surprise me to see an English-language remake at some point.
Nevertheless, The Twelve should prove an enticing prospect for crime fans with its fresh blending of murder-mystery and character drama, and how the two in this case intertwine. I might suggest it would have been better served by eight episodes rather than ten, but that’s a minor quibble. Those who choose to preside over The Twelve will have an engaging case ahead of them.
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Jonathon is the Co-Founder of Ready Steady Cut and has been Senior Editor and Chief Critic of the outlet since 2017.