TIM FANNING MY VIEW
New Zealand-set thriller Top Of The Lake is an eerie, latter-day Western
The idyllic mountains and lakes of New Zealand’s South Island have become famous through native son Peter Jackson’s The Lord Of The Rings. The local tourism authorities must have been thrilled when the decision was made to film there, showcasing the stunning scenery as it did. But I imagine their feelings are a bit more mixed about New Zealand’s depiction in the deliciously dark seven-part drama Top Of The Lake (BBC2, Saturdays).
Created by Jane Campion (The Piano), it centres on the disappearance of a 12-yearold girl, Tui, who is pregnant with the child of an unknown father. Robin (Mad Men’s Elisabeth Moss) is the young police officer who is drawn into the investigation when she returns home to visit her sick mother.
The same mountains and lakes that were little more than framing for CGI battles between fantastical creatures in The Lord Of The Rings become central characters in the drama here. While the South Island’s geography was something to be traversed at will in the fantasy epic, in Top Of The Lake, the harsh terrain imprisons, hems in and shapes the all-too-human characters.
Campion, an Oscar-nominated director, uses the landscape in the same way that John Ford used Monument Valley in his Westerns. In fact, Top Of The Lake is a Western. Elisabeth Moss’s Robin is Gary Cooper, returning home to take on the bad guys, including Peter Mullan’s alpha male Matt Mitcham, who is furious when he discovers that his beloved homestead of Paradise has been sold to someone else. The sheriff, in the form of the police chief, is a cowardly figure who makes a crude pass at Robin and is more interested in keeping the peace than dispensing justice. Robin even squares off against some local thugs in the town’s dingy hostelry. As in most Westerns, land and race are the two issues bubbling beneath the surface.
This being Jane Campion though, there is an otherworldly, mysterious atmosphere and intriguing, weird, morally ambiguous characters. And most importantly for this kind of mystery, you’re never quite sure what’s going to happen next. God knows what Tourism New Zealand thinks... This hugely popular detective drama returns with a tenth series – which will be the last to star both Alun Armstrong and Amanda Redman (above centre, with Dennis Waterman, left, and Denis Lawson, right). In the course of the series Nicholas Lyndhurst and Tamzin Outhwaite will join the cast and Armstrong and Redman will bow out. So, enjoy the present line-up while it lasts – and enjoy a change of scene as this two-part series opener takes the team to Gibraltar. They’re investigating the unsolved murder of a shipping heir – but Brian Lane (Armstrong) has more than the case on his mind, as the repercussions of a long-ago death in custody leave him facing dismissal. As ever there’s plenty of banter in this warm-hearted show, which is probably the key to its success.