Top of the Lake

top of the lakeOutstanding short series from the BBC and Sundance Channel, creators Jane Campion (The Piano) and Gerard Lee bring us Top of the Lake.  I know I’m in for a rare treat when about a 1/2 hour into a program, I think to myself, “what is this?”  Enthralled I sat in awe of this seven part mini-series about a police detective (Elizabeth Moss) who comes home to Queenstown, New Zealand to visit her dying mother.  While there, she gets pulled into a missing person’s case involving a pregnant 12-year old girl who is the daughter of the local drug lord.  To say this is a fusion of Twin Peaks and Prime Suspect doesn’t exactly do it justice.  It’s certainly of the same caliber as the two classic shows.  But it’s a creation brand-new and has so many creative twists which make you sit in wonder during the 350 minutes.  The overarching theme is the struggle between men and women.  Not an easy task to undertake, but it’s done effortlessly in every scene. Elizabeth Moss nails the New Zealand accent so perfectly, I had to look her up to make sure she wasn’t a transplant to the U.S.  She’s not, she’s just an excellent actor.  If you were getting bored with Peggy on Mad Men, you’ll be enthralled by Moss’s performance here.  Surrounding her are an outstanding cast featuring David Wenham (her boss), Peter Mullan (the drug lord), and Thomas M. Wright (her unlikely love interest).  If Zodiac didn’t pass the Bechdel Test, Top of the Lake gets an A+.  Top of the Lake is told from a women’s perspective.  From the opening episode, a commune of women grieving loss and recovering from trauma take over a remote part of the town called Paradise.  Holly Hunter plays perhaps one of the best roles of her life as GJ, the group’s spiritual leader.  Every time Hunter is on-screen, I found myself uttering a slight gasp.  She is physically transformed in the role.  Robin Nevin who plays Robin’s (Moss) mother is also outstanding.  That’s the thing about the physicality of Top of the Lake.  They somehow transformed these actors into brilliant representations of what quirky, small-town characters look like in today’s world.  Hair, make-up, costumes all of it was right on the mark.  I couldn’t believe how authentic everyone looked.  It reminded me so much of the rural funkiness of the Hudson Valley.  Who knew these looks were international?  The scenery in New Zealand is breathtaking.  It’s truly the end of the world.  The score pitch perfect.  This is not a feel-good series. It’s dark and sad, but wrapped in a beauty and hope that is truly unique.  I can’t say enough about Top of the Lake.  It’s probably not for everyone.  But if you crave bold choices and experimental successes, run to Netflix where Top of the Lake is currently streaming.  It’s complex, ethereal, haunting, spiritual, gritty television.  A perfect 5.  Thank you, Ms. Campion.

Hat tip to my dear friend Julia who alerted me to the existence of this marvel.

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5 Responses to “Top of the Lake”

  1. Uncle Barb Says:

    I have been awaiting this review as I have been following Top of the Lake from afar and wishing I had cable. You said the magic words “Prime Suspect”. I saw a recent interview with Holly Hunter, so immediately watched that which is available to me, Saving Grace. The angel part was so stupid that I groaned a lot, however Hunter is excellent and played a sexy, independent woman in need of spiritual redemption. I didn’t buy the spiritual redemption part but liked the sexy and independent. I find her very compelling as an actress and I cannot wait to see Top of the Lake. So glad to know that you liked it, because Campion can be heavy handed and I was afraid that it might suffer from too much Jane weight.

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    • reelcharlie Says:

      The connection between the detective and the missing girl is electric and overwhelming. I didn’t even get to mention that in my haste to get the review out. Top of the Lake is the kind of story that lingers with you. I woke up thinking about it.

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  2. Julia Russell Says:

    So glad you experienced this masterpiece.
    Its been lingering in my “movie mind” for a while. The wild west male vs. woman recalls all those wonderfully produced series (Sopranos, Deadwood, McCoy-Hatfields, Game of Thrones, et al) that lose me after a certain amount of violence, revenge, and alpha male-ism, empty of impact or influence of the strong feminine.
    Fast forward The Piano to modern times. So glad HH created the iconoclast GJ, what a plum.
    True about the Hudson Valley rural funkiness, very real. (so not Hollywood)
    We could talk about this for hours…I miss you my friend!
    Hey Barb, this is sooooooooooooo much better than Saving Grace. I too found the “angel” beyond stupid and trite. Wait to you see HH in this. The Hair alone is worth the price of admission.
    Big hugs all ’round,
    the Jewels

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  3. Outrageous Fortune: S1 | Reel Charlie Says:

    […] being entranced by Top of the Lake, one of my online kiwi buds told me to check out two other projects, one of them the long-running […]

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