Hate and fear: ‘The Twelve’ is a chilling court drama on Channel 4

I imagine most people who’ve been summoned to jury service want an easy case and a quick getaway: nothing long-running, baffling or gory. No such luck for the jurors in this award-winning drama, set in a drab and rain-soaked Belgium.

Their case involves one victim who has apparently been killed by a stun gun from an abattoir; the other, a toddler, has had their throat slit by a shard of glass. The accused is the former’s friend and the latter’s mother. Adding a touch of the bizarre is the detail that the crimes took place almost two decades apart. Formerly a respected headmistress, Frie Palmers (Maaike Cafmeyer) is the focus of feverish national speculation, with “evil witch” being the growing consensus. 

Lengthy and meticulous trials lend themselves to this sort of slow-burning drama, as evidence is slowly teased out and action frozen in time. Frie cuts a bewildered and distraught figure in the dock, but the dramatic focus lies on the individual jurors bringing their own fixed ideas to the table.

For misogynistic photographer Noel, his eye always on a shapely female backside or short skirt, no evidence need be scrutinised — guilty as hell! Construction manager Joeri (Tom Vermeir) is racked with the shame of his own shoddy dealings, and Holly Ceusters (Charlotte De Bruyne) has a secret identity she needs to conceal from the press who are avidly following every courtroom twist. 

Frie’s 12-year troubled marriage to unfaithful Stefaan is under scrutiny as a potential motive for both crimes. Stand-by juror Delphine (Maaike Neuville) might be expected to cast a sympathetic eye given her own sinister husband, for whom even his wife’s jury service is a challenge to his control and authority. But whether cowed Delphine even has a mind of her own is unclear. 

Will such a disparate group be able to hack its way to justice through the thickets of its own conscious and unconscious bias? At least Frie has powerful allies in a vigorous defence team, and also in Marc Vindevogel, the father of Brechtje, her alleged first victim. As head of BEAST, a vocal animal rights group, he’s always had a different theory for the death of his daughter — remember that stun gun? Given that Marc and his daughter were supposedly under police protection when she vanished, the force might be trying to save face with a scapegoat. After all, Frie had an alibi . . . 

“I swear to speak the truth without hate or fear”, goes the oath, but these murky and compromised individuals seem composed of large helpings of both, and the series is all the more chilling for being understated. 

★★★★☆

On Channel 4 from October 18 at 11pm, all episodes available on Walter Presents/All 4

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