New Zealand-set thriller Top Of The Lake is an eerie, lat­ter-day Western

The Irish Mail on Sunday - TV Week - - YOUR TV WEEK -

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.

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