Well, it was probably the best thing that Kidman was in at
Cannes – perhaps more interesting than The Beguiled, more successful than The
Killing of a Sacred Deer, and simply not the trainwreck that How to Talk to Girls at Parties apparently
was. But, while Kidman is very good in it (and we’ll get to that), it’s also
worth talking about how Elizabeth Moss is increasingly becoming a gold standard
for whatever material she’s in.
As well as Top of the
Lake, Moss also had a major role in Ruben Östlund’s The Square, which won the Palme D’Or; and as soon as Cannes had
finished, Moss appeared on UK
televisions in The Handmaid’s Tale, a
show that has quickly been described as one of the best for a while. It’s hard
to tell whether Moss has a knack for picking superior material, or whether she
elevates whatever she’s in to top-tier status. She’s a quiet, controlled
actress, and her performance always seems perfectly symbiotic with whatever it
In the sophomore season of mystery series Top of the Lake, Moss returns as
Detective Robin Griffin. Where season one saw Griffin solving a disappearance
case in her remote New Zealand hometown, season two has her back in bustling
Sydney, an overheated metropolis with a sex-trafficking problem. ‘China girl’
is how one of the city’s Asian sex workers is referred to – but only after her
body has been packed into a suitcase and bundled off a cliff.
When this grisly luggage washes up on Bondi Beach, Griffin
assigns herself to the case. It’s the kind of crime that she dealt with
previously, and the kind of crime that Top
of the Lake deals with as a series: Campion’s procedural drama digs right
into the seamy and squalid, churning up a surface of placid respectability to
find a system of sexual abuse and control underneath. It is a
show that is entirely upfront about the ways that women can be subjugated by
men, and will make a fascinating companion piece to The Handmaid’s Tale.
Griffin was raped at sixteen. It’s an event that
gave her a strong sense of empathy with the twelve-year-old victim of Top of the Lake’s first season, but it’s
the more tangible fallout of the rape that comes into play in season two. The
child that Griffin gave away for adoption is now a teenager called Mary (Alice
Englert) who happens to be besotted with ‘Puss (David Dencik), a slimy older
man who teaches English at the brothel where ‘China girl’ worked.
This is a pretty hefty coincidence, but it allows Campion to
deftly blend two different social spheres. The violent underworld of rape and
slavery, in which a young woman can seemingly evaporate without comment, becomes
intimately linked to the suburban world of middle-class propriety – a cross-over
that occurs most strikingly at a gruesome dinner where Mary introduces Puss to
Kidman plays Julia, Mary’s adoptive mother, who is amiably
divorcing her husband after falling in love with a woman. Julia travelled to
England to study feminism under Germaine Greer, and Kidman’s hair has been
teased into a steely Greerian barnet: a card-carrying, rigorously theoretical, old-school feminist, Kidman plays her with all the
requisite forthrightness. Julia’s clash with Puss at the car-crash dinner is
one of the best moments in these first two episodes.
These episodes are tantalising, and not especially because
of the plot – we see the characters disposing of the victim’s body in the first
scene, and it’s assumed that Griffin will eventually identify them. No, the
real sense of anticipation is generated by Campion’s thrilling mix of themes and scenarios, and the possibilities of how they will develop. Top of the Lake: China Girl may be shot like a traditional cops ‘n’
murderers show, but its main appeal lies in the intriguing way it handles its ideas.
Top of the Lake: China Girl will air on the BBC Thursday 27th July 2017. All episodes will be available immediately on iPlayer.
|What||Top of the Lake: China Girl, Episodes 1 & 2|
|Where||Various Locations | MAP|
27 Jul 17 – 30 Sep 17, Top of the Lake: China Girl will air on Thursday 27th July. All episodes will be immediately available on iPlayer