Today is President’s Day in the US, a day off for many people and a great day to binge-watch several (or all) episodes of The Oldenheim Twelve, the hit mystery from the Netherlands.
The opening montage of people-less streets and bird-less skies against a background of lyric-less music suggests evil has been wrought on this place. Punctuating the eeriness are shop signs that read “closed for an indefinite time” as soldiers escort a middle-aged man to who knows where.
But the story of how things got this way, the story of The Oldenheim Twelve (De 12 van Oldenheim), begins on a fateful day seven months earlier.
After leaving Oldenheim many years ago, journalist Peggy Jonkers (Noortje Herlaar, The Body Collector) returns home from working abroad, most recently in Iraq. Her homecoming, though, is less than warm and welcoming, given that she pulled up stakes without a word to anyone and left family and friends hanging high and dry, wondering why she’d left and what became of her during all those years.
The Perseid meteor shower begins before midnight that night. Approximately seventy falling stars per hour light up the night sky, under which 16-year-old Nine (Roos Wiltink, Black Widow) and her boyfriend Rick (Ko Zandvliet, Familie Kruys) get intimate.
Later that night, Nine disappears.
The frantic search for Nine begins the next day by Rick and her parents, Frits (Reinout Bussemaker, Flight HS13) and Emma Veldhoven (Saskia Temmink, Strike Force), who find Nine’s bike in a ditch but nothing more. The search party grows to include local cop Rob Zonneveld (Michiel Nooter, Baantjer Mysteries), other officers and villagers, and Detective Sharif Dahmani (Nasrdin Dchar, Rabat, Deadline), seconded from Amsterdam to the Oldenheim Police to lead the investigation into Nine’s disappearance.
Oldenheim is a quiet and traditional village in the countryside, where families have lived for generations and the social fabric is tightly woven. A bit like Mayberry, only Dutch. So Nine’s disappearance concerns pretty much everyone here.
But for Frits and Emma, their son Gerben (Thor Braun, Baptiste), and Rick, not knowing where Nine is, or if she ran away, was abducted, or is dead, is killing them.
Then a second Oldenheim resident goes missing. And another. And yet another… In a matter of a few short days and weeks, a total of twelve Oldenheim locals vanish, seemingly into thin air — always inexplicably and always without witnesses.
As Dahmani investigates the mysterious disappearances, Peggy conducts her own inquiries. Meanwhile, villagers speculate about what could be causing these strange occurrences — Are extraterrestrials to blame? Are the vanishings signs of the end of days? — and begin to distrust each other and to act out against each other.
Now the normally close-knit community of Oldenheim is held in the grip of paranoia and suspicion.
And tragedy happens in forms other than disappearances.
The Oldenheim Twelve is a riveting piece of storytelling — one whose intricate and absorbing narrative compels you to watch one episode after another after another until you have consumed all twelve in as few sittings as possible. (I marathon-watched them over two nights, so mesmerized was I by the story.) The solving of the mystery? I didn’t see it coming.
Series writer Lex Passchier (Lord & Master) has stated that he was inspired by the British mystery series Broadchurch, the French supernatural mystery drama The Returned (Les revenants), and the American sci-fi mystery program Under the Dome when creating The Oldenheim Twelve. But he and co-writer Martin van Steijn (Goede tijden, slechte tijden) didn’t simply mash up those shows to make this series; rather, they incorporated their own twists on the themes to give viewers this cleverly-crafted mystery.
The story is textured and layered, and there is more to the characters and their backstories than meets the eye. To wit: Peggy’s abrupt and unexplained departure from Oldenheim, the zero communication from her for years, and the damage all of this wreaked on the people she left behind mirror current events in the village.
There is more, but that would be telling.
The cast of The Oldenheim Twelve is a large one. It includes Aus Greidanus (The Body Collector) as multimedia artist Ruud Jonkers, Peggy’s father; Gaite Jansen (Peaky Blinders) as banker Suus Jonkers, Peggy’s sister; Fedja van Huêt (The Adulterer) as psychotherapist Victor Klinkspoor, Rick’s father; Ellis van den Brink (Baantjer Mysteries) as Neeltje Klinkspoor, Victor’s mother; Guy Clemens (Lord & Master) as innkeeper Marvin Klinkspoor, Victor’s brother; Richard Groenendijk (Baantjer Mysteries) as Felix van Dalsem, Marvin’s business and life partner; Cas Jansen (The Hell of ’63) as Thomas Wisse, Peggy’s ex-boyfriend, now the local pharmacist; Bahareh Borzue (De Maatschap) as Elnaz Wisse, Thomas’ wife; Rifka Lodeizen and Kees Boot (both of The Adulterer) as Danielle and Arend Boshuizen, a separated and grieving couple; Olga Zuiderhoek (Black Widow) as Vera Boshuizen, Arend’s mother; Eric van Sauers (Force) as Wout Plasmeijer, owner of the local campgrounds; Geert Lageveen (The Neighbors) as the local pastor; and Hubert Fermin (Lord & Master) as Mr. Kellerman, Dahmani’s boss.
The series premiered in 2017 on Videoland, the Dutch video-on-demand service, before making its broadcast debut in spring 2018 on the Netherlands’ RTL 4, where it was the channel’s most successful drama of the year.
A second season of the series, titled The Schouwendam 12 (De 12 van Schouwendam), is set in a different village with a new set of characters. Filming has started, and the new series is expected to debut on Videoland this fall and on RTL 4 in 2020. Assuming it’s as good as The Oldenheim Twelve, fingers crossed that Acorn TV picks it up for stateside viewers, too.
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