The best Dutch drama of the last year is emphatically about the past. Take the three series that were nominated for Best TV Drama. Dirty lines (about the sexline industry in the 1980s), Fortuyn’s year and disaster flight. And then we call the non-nominees The spectacular (on the IRA attacks in Limburg in the 1980s). disaster flight eventually won the Golden Calf. Thanks, but Fortuyn’s year came off very badly, if only because Ramsey Nasr and Fedja van Huêt weren’t even nominated. In all these series on recent historical periods, a mirror is held up to present-day Holland; everything may have changed, but have we learned the lessons of history?
disaster flight is a penetrating five-part drama series about the Bijlmer disaster; a disaster that continued for years after the cargo plane of the Israeli company El Al crashed in the middle of the Amsterdam Bijlmermeer. Screenwriter Michael Leendertse bases his story on the work of two investigative journalists, Pierre Heijboer from de Volkskrant (Yorick van Wageningen) and Vincent Dekker van Fidelity (Thomas Höppener), who saw their professional suspicions about the course of events years later rewarded with a parliamentary investigation. The third main role is played by Joy Delima as Asha Willems, a veterinarian from Bijlmer who makes it her mission to connect the mysterious diseases plaguing Bijlmer after the disaster with the mismanagement of the Dutch authorities.
Delima does not play a historical figure, but is more a composite of activists and other residents of Bijlmer who continued to fight to hear the true story, especially about the cargo plane’s dangerous cargo. Leendertse must have watched the HBO series closely Chernobyl, another disaster with a different aftermath, but also featuring an unlikely duo of men, based on historical figures, and a ‘composite’ female character (Emily Watson) doing medical research. You can choke on such an example, but disaster flight succeeds brilliantly in increasing the tension in five episodes.
The disaster itself is modestly but very effectively depicted in a few images; a terrifying side view from a window as the plane lands, and a plume of smoke in the distance, from Schiphol’s control tower. There are two journalists who sink their teeth deeper into the case than most of their colleagues. And in both cases, their professional persistence grows into an obsession that the editors at the various newspapers no longer know what to do with. Some editorial scenes feel a little short-sighted, but overall the series seems to have captured the journalistic mood of the nineties well.
Van Wageningen plays Heijboer as an old lion who once again seizes the opportunity to seize a big story, while Vincent Dekker from the excellent Thomas Höppener, a man with all kinds of nerdy knowledge about runways and flight routes, is precisely the young guy who finally want to prove. Unaided by any diplomatic talent. In both cases, they also have something to prove on their own editorial board. After all, Asha Williams (Joy Delima) is the character who keeps drawing attention to the victims, behind the political machinations. In a strong supporting role, Gijs Scholten van Asschat is the head of the official investigation from the Rijksluchtvaartdienst; a role that here also represents administrative arrogance in the past and present.
Five-part series based on a screenplay by Michael Leendertse
With Thomas Höppener, Joy Delima, Yorick van Wageningen
Can be seen on NPO Plus