“You might lose sleep”
Top of the Lake: China Girl (Season Two)
BBC Two (UK), Sundance TV (US), UKTV (NZ)
27 July – 31 August 2017
Jane Campion’s Top of the Lake: China Girl was made for binge watching, and not just because it first aired in the cinema at both the 2017 Cannes Film Festival and the New Zealand International Film Festival. But because it was already late and my partner and I did the classic “just-one-more”, and two episodes later it was one in the morning and we’d finished the series. China Girl’s cliffhangers and dangling threads are tantalising, keeping you going even when you should have gone to bed hours ago.
Top of the Lake exchanges the quiet rural New Zealand town of fictional Laketop (filmed in and around Queenstown) for the bustling (and real) Sydney, Australia. Bondi beach ain’t exactly a lake, so the metaphor doesn’t quite work this time around.
Elisabeth Moss is back with her admittedly pretty spot-on kiwi accent as Robin Griffin, a Sydney-based homicide detective. Moss was also the lead in The Handmaid’s Tale. She must be a glutton for punishment. These two series in particular wade through some gloomy and disturbing waters.
In follow up to last season there’s not much carry-through apart from an ongoing court case and how it affects Robin. There is some dramatic resolution but this season is more focused on the case of “China Girl”—a suitcase washes up on Bondi Beach with the body of a young prostitute inside.
We also meet Robin’s biological child who she adopted out when she was raped at a young age, 17-year-old Mary, and her parents Julia (Nicole Kidman) and Pyke (Ewen Leslie), Nicole Kidman. Mary has a relationship with 42-year-old Alexander or “Puss” (David Dencik) who works in a brothel teaching English to the sex workers on Student Visas.
At first, I wanted to give Puss the benefit of the doubt, but with each passing episode my hatred for him grew and grew (and not because that was also my brother’s nickname!). Whether or not he had a hand in the crime, he walks about like an obnoxious Jack Sparrow with a degree, and has groomed Mary to be his loyal lapdog.
Again, Top of the Lake doesn’t hesitate when dealing with topics of a serious nature. Birth and child-rearing are important themes this season, from adoption to surrogacy, and both Robin and Mary play an important part. If you’re sensitive to these topics you may want to give this a miss.
This new season gives us a greyed Nicole Kidman utilising her native tongue. Looks like her stint on Big Little Lies wasn’t the end of her return to television. Holly Hunter also went grey for the first season. Campion’s penchant for attractive greyed women is sadly unique in a world where older men are seen as silver-haired foxes and women as spinsters.
For the other major role, it’s not enough to be in both Game of Thrones and the new Star Wars, Gwendoline Christie is starring in this frankly, smaller series as a new constable, Miranda, who Robin is burdened with as a partner. Her delicate nature and naivety are a far cry from her tough persona in the aforementioned series’ and is seen here as the butt of jokes.
If you’re a crime buff or you just like plain good old storytelling, Top of the Lake is a worthwhile binge, just make sure you start with Season One. China Girl will spoil the ending if you skip it. And for goodness sake’s don’t forget to sleep!
It may have crossed the ditch but Top of the Lake retains its mature essence, swirling emotions and addictive storytelling. Jane Campion’s China Girl is the gripping continuation of the Trans-Tasman series I’ve been waiting for.