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 & Entertainment
TV

Arts & Entertainment
Customers browse through Vinyl Junkies record shop in Berwick Street, Soho, London
music

Arts & Entertainment
Who laughs lass: Jenny Collier on stage
ComedyCollier was once told there were "too many women" on bill
Arts & Entertainment
Ian Anderson, the leader of British rock band Jethro Tull, (right) and British guitar player Martin Barre (left) perform on stage
music

VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Arts & Entertainment
Don (John Hamm) and Megan (Jessica Paré) Draper are going their separate ways in the final series of ‘Mad Men’
tvReview: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
Arts & Entertainment
James Franco and Chris O'Dowd in Of Mice and Men on Broadway
theatre

Review: Of Mice and Men

Arts & Entertainment
art

By opportunistic local hoping to exhibit the work

Arts & Entertainment
Leonardo DiCaprio will star in an adaptation of Michael Punke's thriller 'The Revenant'
film

Fans will be hoping the role finally wins him an Oscar

Arts & Entertainment
Cody and Paul Walker pictured in 2003.
film

Arts & Entertainment
Down to earth: Fern Britton presents 'The Big Allotment Challenge'
TV

Arts & Entertainment
The London Mozart Players is the longest-running chamber orchestra in the UK
musicThreatened orchestra plays on, managed by its own members
Arts & Entertainment
Seeing red: James Dean with Sal Mineo in 'Rebel without a Cause'
film

Arts & Entertainment
TV
Arts & Entertainment
Heads up: Andy Scott's The Kelpies in Falkirk
art

What do gigantic horse heads tell us about Falkirk?

Arts & Entertainment
artGraffiti legend posts picture of work – but no one knows where it is
Arts & Entertainment
A close-up of Tom of Finland's new Finnish stamp
art

Finnish Postal Service praises the 'self irony and humour' of the drawings

Arts & Entertainment
Pierce Brosnan as James Bond in 2002's Die Another Day
film

The actor has confessed to his own insecurities

Life & Style
Green fingers: a plot in East London
TV

Allotments are the focus of a new reality show

Arts & Entertainment
Myleene Klass attends the Olivier awards 2014

Oliviers 2014Theatre stars arrive at Britain's most prestigious theatre awards
Arts & Entertainment
Stars of The Book of Mormon by Trey Parker and Matt Stone of South Park

Oliviers 2014Blockbuster picked up Best Musical and Best Actor in a Musical
Arts & Entertainment
Lesley Manville with her Olivier for Best Actress for her role in 'Ghosts'

Oliviers 2014Actress thanked director Richard Eyre for a stunning production
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

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

    How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe: Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC

    How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe

    Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC
    Video of British Muslims dancing to Pharrell Williams's hit Happy attacked as 'sinful'

    British Muslims's Happy video attacked as 'sinful'

    The four-minute clip by Honesty Policy has had more than 300,000 hits on YouTube
    Church of England-raised Michael Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith

    Michael Williams: Do as I do, not as I pray

    Church of England-raised Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith
    A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife

    A History of the First World War in 100 moments

    A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife
    Comedian Jenny Collier: 'Sexism I experienced on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

    Jenny Collier: 'Sexism on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

    The comedian's appearance at a show on the eve of International Women's Day was cancelled because they had "too many women" on the bill
    Cannes Film Festival: Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or

    Cannes Film Festival

    Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or
    The concept album makes surprise top ten return with neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson

    The concept album makes surprise top ten return

    Neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson is unexpected success
    Lichen is the surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus, thanks to our love of Scandinavian and Indian cuisines

    Lichen is surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus

    Emily Jupp discovers how it can give a unique, smoky flavour to our cooking
    10 best baking books

    10 best baking books

    Planning a spot of baking this bank holiday weekend? From old favourites to new releases, here’s ten cookbooks for you
    Jury still out on Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini

    Jury still out on Pellegrini

    Draw with Sunderland raises questions over Manchester City manager's ability to motivate and unify his players
    Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

    Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

    The all-rounder has been hailed as future star after Ashes debut but incident in Caribbean added to doubts about discipline. Jon Culley meets a man looking to control his emotions
    Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

    Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

    The most prize money ever at an All-Weather race day is up for grabs at Lingfield on Friday, and the record-breaking trainer tells Jon Freeman how times have changed
    Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail. If you think it's awful, then just don't watch it'

    Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail'

    As the second series of his divisive sitcom 'Derek' hits screens, the comedian tells James Rampton why he'll never bow to the critics who habitually circle his work
    Mad Men series 7, TV review: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge

    Mad Men returns for a final fling

    The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
    Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground as there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit

    Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground

    Technology giant’s scientists say there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit