BBC2, Saturday

Television review: Top of the Lake - who fancies a trip to the spooky lake?

Jane Campion’s dark new series opened with lovely scenery and a gob-smacking moment

If you watched Top of the Lake last night, I think I know the point at which you dropped your iPad and started paying attention. Two women are nattering in a shipping container plonked incongruously in the New Zealand mountains. Woman One: “Have you ever tried masturbating? It’s very relaxing and not fattening.” Woman Two: “I like penis.” Woman One: “Me too. I really like the ones that are bigger.”

It was an awkward and attention-grabbing, in a way that suggests the serial’s co-director and creator, the film-maker Jane Campion, might be  hoping to jump the tramlines that well-appointed, big-budget serial dramas like to run along. Up until that moment, Top of the Lake was clattering along quite smoothly.

In short order, we watched as Robin (Elisabeth Moss) returns to the remote highland community of her upbringing and, as a police officer specialising in the handling of young abuse victims, becomes involved in the suspicious pregnancy of Tui, a young girl. The girl’s father is the local thug, Matt (Peter Mullan), who dislikes Robin’s attentions as much as he’s infuriated by the women’s commune, led by G J (Holly Hunter), which appears to have bought a spit of lakeside land for which he believes he had first refusal. There was violence, beautiful scenery and the suggestion of corruption by the local police.

Campion’s theme would appear to be the difference – or should that be the mile-wide chasm – between the sexes. The men of rural New Zealand may have cause to feel hard done by on this account. In his grotty compound, Matt shot a dog in the presence of Robin – a dog, he reassures her, that he really liked. The local police chief has a stag’s head over his desk and preened himself in the mirror as he discussed Tui’s case with Robin. Standard-issue redneck, then, with some local flavour (not even that in Mullan’s case; he seems to have been beamed in from Glasgow, accent and all).

Most of the women in the first episode seemed to be suffering at the hands of these men. They were saved from the rather meat-and-potato characterisation doled out to the male characters, by being, well, a bit odd – particularly those few we met on the commune. How would you respond to a very pissed off Peter Mullan, with large sons, loudly enquiring what you’re doing on his land? Probably not, as one woman did, by telling him that she is there to recover from a failed relationship with a chimpanzee.

Holly Hunter’s commune queen seems the counterpart to Matt – a gnomic straight-talker, with hair almost as long as she is, who may or may not have the best interests of her charges at heart. The few scenes among the commune inhabitants appeared to have been cut-and-pasted in from another, altogether more raw drama, but they are the ones that will keep me watching. Plus, it has a spooky lake, like The Returned – and I do love a spooky lake.

Anthony Wonke, the director of Piper Alpha: Fire in the Night, likewise decided to push at the boundaries of a genre, in his case that ungodly creation, the docudrama. The 1988 disaster claimed 167 of the 228 aboard the North Sea oil rig, and in its bloody wake, the industry spent billions of pounds implementing  more than 100 safety procedures. Going by the hair-raising footage of the riggers at work in the heyday of the oil boom, health and safety stopped at a big moustache and eyes in the back of your head. The half-dozen or so survivors who provided their testimony of the hellish events of that night are tough men, whose direct accounts were as moving for what was omitted as for what was included.

Several recalled standing alongside “lads” –friends, colleagues, many with families –who were there one moment and then gone, vaporised in fires so hot the sea steamed beneath the rig. As far as it could, the programme recreated what their experience might have been like in sound and visual effects that were as eerily beautiful as they were terrifying. It was a gamble to play with these men’s most awful memories, and it paid off: the result was mesmerising.

One thing: we might be on the brink of another great energy boom with safety concerns, in the form of shale gas. As the credits rolled on Fire in the Night, it occured that this programme might interest all concerned. Just a thought.

 

Arts and Entertainment
Joel Edgerton, John Turturro and Christian Bale in Exodus: Gods and Kings
film Ridley Scott reveals truth behind casting decisions of Exodus
Arts and Entertainment
An unseen image of Kurt Cobain at home featured in the film 'Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck'
filmThe singers widow and former bandmates have approved project
Arts and Entertainment
Jake Quickenden and Edwina Currie are joining the I'm A Celebrity...Get Me Out Of Here! camp
tv
Arts and Entertainment
George Mpanga has been shortlisted for the Critics’ Choice prize
music
Arts and Entertainment
Roisin, James and Sanjay in the boardroom
tvReview: This week's failing project manager had to go
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Carrie Hope Fletcher
booksFirst video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
Arts and Entertainment
Damien Hirst
artCoalition's anti-culture policy and cuts in local authority spending to blame, says academic
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
A comedy show alumni who has gone on to be a big star, Jon Stewart
tvRival television sketch shows vie for influential alumni
Arts and Entertainment
Jason goes on a special mission for the queen
tvReview: Everyone loves a CGI Cyclops and the BBC's Saturday night charmer is getting epic
Arts and Entertainment
Image has been released by the BBC
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Will there ever be a Friends reunion?
TV
News
Harry Hill plays the Professor in the show and hopes it will help boost interest in science among young people
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
A Van Gogh sold at Sotheby’s earlier this month
art
Arts and Entertainment

MusicThe band accidentally called Londoners the C-word

Arts and Entertainment
It would 'mean a great deal' to Angelina Jolie if she won the best director Oscar for Unbroken

Film 'I've never been comfortable on-screen', she says

Arts and Entertainment
Winnie the Pooh has been branded 'inappropriate' in Poland
books
Arts and Entertainment
Lee Evans is quitting comedy to spend more time with his wife and daughter

comedy
Arts and Entertainment
American singer, acclaimed actor of stage and screen, political activist and civil rights campaigner Paul Robeson (1898 - 1976), rehearses in relaxed mood at the piano.
filmSinger, actor, activist, athlete: Paul Robeson was a cultural giant. But prejudice and intolerance drove him to a miserable death. Now his story is to be told in film...
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift is dominating album and singles charts worldwide

music
Arts and Entertainment
Kieron Richardson plays gay character Ste Hay in Channel 4 soap Hollyoaks

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Midge Ure and Sir Bob Geldof outside the Notting Hill recording studios for Band Aid 30

music
Arts and Entertainment
Look out: Broad shoulders take Idris Elba’s DCI John Luther a long way
tvIdris Elba will appear in two special episodes for the BBC next year
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

    Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

    It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
    Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

    Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

    The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
    Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

    Sarkozy returns

    The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
    Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

    Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

    Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
    Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

    Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

    Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game
    There's a Good Girl exhibition: How female creatives are changing the way women are portrayed in advertising

    In pictures: There's a Good Girl exhibition

    The new exhibition reveals how female creatives are changing the way women are portrayed in advertising
    UK firm Biscuiteers is giving cookies a makeover - from advent calendars to doll's houses

    UK firm Biscuiteers is giving cookies a makeover

    It worked with cupcakes, doughnuts and macarons so no wonder someone decided to revamp the humble biscuit
    Can SkySaga capture the Minecraft magic?

    Can SkySaga capture the Minecraft magic?

    It's no surprise that the building game born in Sweden in 2009 and now played by millions, has imitators keen to construct their own mega money-spinner
    The King's School is way ahead of the pack when it comes to using the latest classroom technology

    Staying connected: The King's School

    The school in Cambridgeshire is ahead of the pack when it comes to using the latest classroom technology. Richard Garner discovers how teachers and pupils stay connected
    Christmas 2014: 23 best women's perfumes

    Festively fragrant: the best women's perfumes

    Give a loved one a luxe fragrance this year or treat yourself to a sensual pick-me-up
    Arsenal vs Borussia Dortmund: Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain celebrates century with trademark display of speed and intuition

    Arsenal vs Borussia Dortmund

    The Ox celebrates century with trademark display of speed and intuition
    Billy Joe Saunders vs Chris Eubank Jnr: When two worlds collide

    When two worlds collide

    Traveller Billy Joe Saunders did not have a pampered public-school upbringing - unlike Saturday’s opponent Chris Eubank Jnr
    Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Drifting and forgotten - turning lives around for ex-soldiers

    Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Turning lives around for ex-soldiers

    Our partner charities help veterans on the brink – and get them back on their feet
    Putin’s far-right ambition: Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU

    Putin’s far-right ambition

    Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU
    Tove Jansson's Moominland: What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?

    Escape to Moominland

    What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?