Antwerp, the world’s diamond capital, looms large in Netflix’s crime thriller, Rough Diamonds, a joint production from Israel and Belgium.
The diamond trade in rough and polished stones in Antwerp is dominated by ultra-Orthodox Jews. The Wolfsons, a fictitious haredi family, are at the center of this intriguing, mostly satisfying eight-part series, which unfolds in Flemish, English, Yiddish, French and Hebrew.
Greed, jealousy and family dysfunction are its overriding themes.
It gets under way as Yanki (Vincent Van Sande), a young Jewish diamond dealer, arrives at his office early one morning, lets out loud screams, prays, and shoots himself in the head.
Yanki’s suicide sets into motion a jarring chain of events that embroil his family in disgrace and danger and impel his older and estranged brother, Noah (Kevin Janssens), to return to Antwerp after 15 years in exile in London.
A widower with a pre-teen son named Johnny (Caspar Knopf), Noah is employed by his mother-in-law, Kerra McCabe (Tine Joustra), a tough underworld figure who is fond of Noah and dearly loves her precocious grandson.
Profoundly alienated from his Orthodox roots and its values, Noah is thoroughly secular, much to his father’s distress and embarrassment. Noah’s reason for having left his insular, rigidly traditional community remains unexplained.
Ever since leaving the Orthodox community, he has lost touch with his parents, Ezra (Dudu Fisher) and Sarah (Yona Eilan-Keshet), his sister Adina (Ini Massez), his brother Eli (Robbie Cleiren), and his sister-in-law Gila (Marie Vinck), Yanki’s widow. The Flemish and Israeli actors in this series, led by Janssens, deliver fine performances.
Much to their horror, Noah and his siblings learn that Yanki fell recklessly into deep debt, jeopardizing the viability and continued existence of their company, Wolfson Diamonds. Adina claims she was unaware of Yanki’s debts. Noah blames Eli, the eldest son, for his failure to help Yanki weather the crisis. He insists that Yanki’s debt must be repaid.
In a scene fraught with high tension and violence, Noah tries to settle it with the rough-hewn man from whom Yanki borrowed the money. He proves to be uncooperative, and after hurling an antisemitic epithet, Noah goes ballistic and throws him out of a first-storey window. The incident leads Noah to the false conclusion that the matter has been settled.
As the Wolfsons soon discover, they are in deeper trouble than they could ever have imagined.
The police have found rough diamonds in a port container traced back to their firm. The discovery raises an uncomfortable question: Has the Albanian mafia been laundering money through the sale of Wolfson diamonds?
In yet another complication, the Wolfsons have angered an important supplier. They ordered $1.5 million worth of diamonds from respected dealer David Fogel (Vincent Londez), but have yet to pay him for the precious jewels. The Wolfsons are short of funds because an Arab customer from Dubai still has not paid for a shipment of diamonds. As a last resort, Noah applies physical pressure on a local Arab to pay up.
The story line of Rough Diamonds grows still more complex when Eli negotiates a deal without his siblings’ knowledge, leading them to the suspicion that they are being cut out of the company. Eli, a person who yearns for respect but rarely receives it, becomes the object of a police investigation concerning the laundering of money to Israel.
In further subplots, Noah lands a lucrative contract from the Brazilian government, attempts to sever his family’s connection with Albanian gangsters, strikes up a secret romance with Gila, and schemes to rob a competitor.
At times, the plot is so uncommonly convoluted that a viewer may well lose track of it. But on balance, Rough Diamonds is riveting and entertaining.