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A Real-Life Debate — Not A True Crime Story — Inspired The Twelve

Refinery29 logo Refinery29 2020-07-13 Sarah Midkiff
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Netflix just dropped a Belgian crime drama, The Twelve, which points a spotlight at a side of the courtroom that is in plain view but is rarely acknowledged: the jurors. The 10-part series follows twelve jurors as they hear the controversial and highly publicized case of Fri Palmers (Maaike Cafmeyer), who is accused of killing her best friend in 2000 and her own daughter 18 years later. Selected at random, the jury must now debate morality and justice in deciding whether Palmers is innocent or guilty. Circumstances only get more complicated as the case begins to seep into the jurors’ personal lives and they must find ways to keep them separate in order to avoid biases that may define their judgment. 

As the only other person adjacent to both murders, Palmers’ ex-husband Stefan Munk (Johan Heldenbergh) is convinced that she killed their daughter, Rose just like he is convinced that she killed her best friend, Britt. Consequently, Munk used to date Britt. Complicated? Definitely. The case gets even more compelling when we learn that, the night of Rose’s death, Munk’s new wife Margot (Greet Verstraete) and her mother (Jolente De Keersmaeker) were the only ones home. So why is it that Palmer is the only one on trial? With a case this complicated, we might feel the urge to search for the case online. Surely, there is the true story buried somewhere on the internet for us to find and figure out what happened. To the credit of the series co-writers, who also acted as showrunners, this case starts and ends with the show. And despite it centering around a contentious trial, the series has less to do with the trial and more to do with the twelve people brought in to hear it.

This script was years in the making. Showrunners and co-writers Bert Van Dael and Sanne Nuyens developed the idea for the series at the same time they created another crime drama called Hotel Beau Séjour in 2016. While the crime itself isn’t based on one specific true story, one aspect of the series is truly ripped straight from the headlines. “There was a big public debate about jury duty in Belgium that we found enormously interesting,” Van Dael and Nuyens told Variety in a 2019 interview pegged to the series’ Cannes debut. “The previous government tried to eradicate the jury system in which twelve citizens decide upon guilt and penalty of the defendant, because it basically was too expensive…We found it thought provoking to focus on the ordinary people that get drawn by lot for jury duty. Most of the courtroom dramas we know focus on the lawyers or the defendant, but we really wanted to have the point of view of normal people.”

Van Dael and Nuyens dove headfirst into researching for their characters. To inspire their writing, the co-writers interviewed real-life jurors about their experiences. “What really struck us was when a woman told us she had a really dominant, jealous husband and, while on the jury, she started to see traits of her husband in the defendant. She was thinking that if she stayed with her husband, she might end up in the same position [as the victim in the case],” Van Dael said to Drama Quarterly. “It was interesting for us to see how your life may or may not affect your judgment. So we wanted to develop the private lives of these characters and see how they would judge a defendant.”

The Twelve is now streaming on Netflix.

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