When I'm not playing games, I watch a lot of films and TV series'. During the week I’ll probably watch at least 6 episodes of any particular series and a handful of films. Considering my wife has a phobia of the cinema, home cinema is the best I can hope for. I thought my column here would be a good place to recommend whatever series or film I happen to have recently stumbled across and considering everyone has Netflix (don’t they?) all my recommendations will be on there. If you don’t live in one of the regions I recommend a film or series on, just download Hola! - by the wonders of technology it'll trick Netflix into believeing you've moved countries. Magic.
Top Of The Lake (UK Netflix)
I’ve seen the leader actor in Top Of The Lake before. She used to play Peggy in Madmen and although she was likeable, I wouldn’t necessarily cast Elisabeth Moss as a leading lady. Surprisingly, she’s quite brilliant in Top Of The Lake for a variety of reasons, but I’ll get to that in a little while.
Top Of The Lake is a TV mini-series in a similar vein to the likes of The Killing. It was released a few years ago and went well and truly under my radar. The premise sees inexperienced Detective, Robin Griffin (Moss), searching for 12-year-old Tui, who is five months pregnant and missing. Set in a remote part of New Zealand, Robin has not only deal with a police force intent on making her job difficult but her own past and a local community that appears to hinder rather than help. At only 6 episodes and with a second season planned this year, the series zips along at a rapid pace. While it never feels rushed, it’s actually refreshing to come across a drama series that doesn’t attempt to protract a story unnecessarily.
Besides the beauty of the series’ location and the isolation of those involved, the reason why I love Top Of The Lake so much is the issues that it deals with. It’s a subtle series that delicately steps on issues such as grief, abuse, loss, ignorance, prejudice and self discovery. With only a small cast it’s less of a ‘who-done-it’ and more of a character analysis. The fact that Tui, an incredibly young girl is missing and pregnant, at times feels secondary to the unraveling of Griffin.
The supporting cast surrounding Griffin are quite exceptional. Peter Mullan who plays Tui’s father often steals the entire series from under Moss’ nose. If you’ve seen any of the Harry Potter films, you will know him as Yaxley. Not only is his presence on screen unnerving, but it’s inevitable that as the viewer you’ll not only question the way he and his brood lives but the likelihood of him having also abused his daughter.
Scenarios such as this, whereas the viewer is subtly encouraged to judge an onscreen character before knowing them is intentional and that always leaves me rather uncomfortable. We all judge to some degree but being judgemental is also a particularly poor trait. Top Of The Lake forces this out of you and in many ways, every single one of the characters is not only carrying baggage, but that baggage quickly allows you to form an opinion on their nature: good or bad. Whether it’s Johnno Mitcham living in a tent, estranged from his father, or the androgynous GJ appearing to have an ulterior motive besides attempting to help a group of troubled women.
Although I’d rightly guessed the outcome of Top Of The Lake by Episode 4, the series was no less satisfying for it. Whether it’s my experience of watching TV series of this type or just lucky intuition, I’d actually say that the writers did an exceptional job of leaving just enough question marks scattered throughout the plot to always leave you guessing.
If any other characters deserve special mention, it has to be GJ. Played by Holy Hunter, GJ is a spiritual leader who has arrived in a place known as Paradise. Although she has few plot strands, she’s often the center pin to many of the story archs acting as an anchor that the cast continue to return back to. Although she’s slightly stereotypical of what many might envisage a spiritual leader to be, I think Holy Hunter does an incredible job of not only fulfilling the role but convincing the audience that she can offer words of wisdom for all of us. I often found myself wishing I knew of someone just like her and yet GJ, were someone to tell her that, would loathe it.
Lastly and because it’s a personal preference of mine in cinema or television, silence plays quite a large part of Top Of The Lake. Whether it’s the opening scene of Tui stood waist deep in the lake or GJ looking through one of her group as they bore her with trivial matters, these moments often resonate a great deal more than any script can. I suspect part of the reason for so much silence isn’t just for effect but to portray the isolation many of the characters are feeling.
Top Of The Lake isn’t perfect and I thought many of the sex scenes felt oddly out of place (if convincing) but overall, it’s well worth watching. With Season 2 right around the corner, there really is no better time to watch it than over a weekend.
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