The new series Flying Dutchmen by director Joram Lürsen looks beautiful and is a history lesson like an exciting boy’s book.
It is June 1919 and The Great War is coldly over when Albert Plesman (Steef de Bot) visits a senior British soldier in London. Plesman is organizing an air show, the Eerste Luchtvaart Exhibition Amsterdam (ELTA), but it would not be complete without the contribution of the British Royal Flying Corps.
The Brit refuses as long as Anthony Fokker is also a guest at the ELTA. Fokker delivered aircraft to the Germans during the war, resulting in many British casualties. “He is a war criminal,” the senior military ruled. “He’s a crowd pleaser,” Plesman exclaims somewhat desperately, in coal English.
His next argument is more convincing: “I want to show that airplanes are not just for war, but that we can use them for good things.” What particularly impresses the soldier, however, are the soaking wet shoes with which Plesman entered the office – he was fished out of the North Sea after an emergency landing on water in the prologue of Flying Dutchmen.
With this opening, Albert Plesman is beautifully described as a go-getter and idealist. Civil aviation was in its infancy, aircraft mainly served as war material. Even Anthony Fokker (Bram Suijker), an opportunist who was mainly looking for a quick win, saw little in civil aviation: “Taxis in the air ?!”
Condemned to each other
The fact that idealist Plesman and opportunist Fokker were doomed to each other in the pioneering years of the Koninklijke Luchtvaart Maatschappij, which was founded 101 years ago, forms the leitmotiv of the eight-part drama series Flying Dutchmen. Their origins and approach were also at odds with each other: Plesman was the son of an egg farmer and was therefore not taken seriously by the KLM donors; Fokker came from a wealthy family, but was despised by his father for his questionable business choices.
And while Plesman is portrayed as straightforward, a man who has to learn from his wife that you can also lobby while playing tennis, Fokker does not shy away from arranging dubious affairs in smoky whorehouses. The business partner in question is a mustachioed Russian called a toast to Lenin and Iwan Smirnoff – it could have been a bit less caricatured.
Good thing vs. bad guy
It should be noted that the series was initiated by family member Jeroen Plesman who is listed as executive producer in the credits. Plesman may therefore come off a bit better than Fokker, although director Joram Lürsen (Banker of the Resistance, Public Works) has not turned it into a simple good-looking versus bad guy. The fact that Fokker’s dubious reputation is not avoided rather indicates that Flying Dutchmen has not become an uncritical ode to these aviation pioneers.
The series looks beautiful, partly due to the ingenious use of archive material that regularly seamlessly transitions into the re-enacted scenes. In old age Plesman and Fokker are played by Daan Schuurmans and Fedja van Huêt, who – in one of the two episodes that the press saw – play their roles extra. But in that sixth episode a lot is at stake, with the flight of the Uiver, which took part in the 1934 race from London to Melbourne. And while someone with some knowledge of aviation history knows how that race ended, that episode is pretty exciting. Flying Dutchmen is a history lesson like an exciting boy’s book.