The best Dutch drama of the past year is emphatically concerned with the past. Take the three series that were nominated for Best Television Drama. Dirty Lines (about the sexline industry of the 1980s), The Year of Fortuyn and disaster flight. And then we call the non-nominated The Spectacular (about the IRA attacks in Limburg in the 1980s). disaster flight eventually won the Golden Calf. Thank you, but The Year of Fortuyn came off very poorly, if only because Ramsey Nasr and Fedja van Huêt were not even nominated. In all these series about recent historical periods, a mirror to the present-day Netherlands is held up; everything may have changed, but have we learned the historical lessons?
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 of de Volkskrant (Yorick van Wageningen) and Vincent Dekker van Fidelity (Thomas Höppener), who saw their professional suspicion about the course of events rewarded years later with a parliamentary inquiry. The third leading role is played by Joy Delima as Asha Willems, a veterinarian from the Bijlmer who makes it a mission to link the mysterious diseases that plague the Bijlmer after the disaster with the mismanagement of the Dutch authorities.
Delima does not play a historical figure, but is more a composite of activist and other inhabitants of the Bijlmer, who continued to fight to hear the true story, in particular about the dangerous cargo of the cargo plane. Leendertse probably looked closely at the HBO series Chernobyl, another disaster with a different aftermath, but there too an unlikely duo of men, based on historical figures and a ‘composite’ female character (Emily Watson) who does medical research. You can choke on such an example, but disaster flight succeeds excellently in increasing the tension for five episodes.
The disaster itself is modest but very effectively portrayed 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 perseverance grows into an obsession that the editors of the various newspapers no longer know what to do with. Some editorial scenes feel a bit short sighted, but in general the series seems to have captured the journalistic atmosphere of the nineties well.
Van Wageningen plays Heijboer as an old lion who once again seizes the opportunity to grab a big story, while the Vincent Dekker of 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. Without being helped 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 leader 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
To be seen on NPO Plus