With a teeming ensemble cast led by Sam Neill, this courtroom drama will have you asking, “Did she do it?”.
Consider the number of times you’ve tried to get out of jury duty. That’s probably not going to change after The Twelve, a drama centred on a bruising court case in which a woman stands accused of murdering her niece.
Adapted from a Belgian series, the Australian version features a talented ensemble led by Sam Neill, Marta Dusseldorp and Kate Mulvaney as the lawyer, prosecutor and defendant in the trial.
As much as the narrative thrust of The Twelve is fuelled by the case, some of the richer veins are found in the stories of the jurors who sit in judgment of their fellow citizen.
As with any juror pool, each person’s biases, experiences and traumas will influence their deliberations and decisions in the room, and The Twelve is mostly interested in those stories.
There’s Georgina (Brooke Satchwell), a mother of three kids trapped in an abusive and coercive relationship, a subplot with extra resonance given Satchwell’s history with Matthew Newton. It’s a haunted, rich performance.
There’s newcomer Ngali Shaw, who plays a young Indigenous student whose participation in the trial disrupts his life, and who must then be confronted with the workings of a justice system that has failed, time and again, himself and his people.
There’s Hazem Shammas’ Farrad, an immigrant working to help the rest of his family join him in Australia and Pallavi Sharda’s jury foreperson, a young woman who hides her enormous inherited wealth.
Those are just the ones the series showcases in the first two of 10 episodes made available for review. There are teases of the backstories of many more, including the characters portrayed by Brendan Cowell, Catherine Van-Davies and Damien Strouthos.
It’s a glimpse into the lives of various people who are summonsed every day to decide the fate of a stranger.
Given the huge cast of characters, The Twelve surprisingly balances the demands of all those subplots and dangling threads, pacing the stories with care while still teasing out the mystery of the case itself.
It doesn’t feel as if it’s short-changing any particular story – at least not yet – including the did-she-didn’t-she of the murder trial.
Through the courtroom drama and in flashbacks, the series interrogates how much the jurors’ perceptions of the accused, Kate Lawson (Mulvaney), is informed by her status as an artist and the extent to which the provocative art of her teenage niece is colouring their judgment.
The Twelve, not explicitly, evokes the hand-wringing debate over photographer Bill Henson’s 2008 exhibition, in which nude images of teenagers became a lightning rod for controversy. The ensuing melee drew emotional reactions, some of them unsophisticated condemnations, and questions over the blurring between exploitation and art.
The series has a curiosity about how these individuals intersect in an imperfect system to make a decision that has significant ramifications.
The performances and the writing are solid, the premise is compelling and the series itself has a lot of promise. It’s not going to make you want to serve on a jury, though.
The Twelve is on Fox Showcase and Foxtel On Demand from Tuesday, June 21 at 8.30pm
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