Campion and co-writer/creator Gerald Lee were at “Top of the Lake’s” premiere at the Sundance Film Festival in January, joined by cast members Elisabeth Moss, David Wenham, Holly Hunter and Peter Mullan, among others. The entire seven episodes were shown at a festival screening as well, with audiences raving over the beauty, and rawness, of the series.
It begins as a mystery, when a 12-year-old girl named Tui (actress Jacqueline Joe), the daughter of a local drug lord (Mullan), discovers she is pregnant but refuses to disclose who the father of the child is. Then she disappears. Moss plays straight-talking detective Robin Griffin, a specialist in child protection who’s called in to investigate. The deeper she digs into this case, the more convoluted it becomes. And the story is as much about her efforts to find herself as it is to finding Tui.
“It’s a classic mystic struggle,” Campion said during a press conference and interview for On and Beyond. “Even as Robin breaks, she maintains a light and love for the lost girl, but it takes her by surprise to realize the lost girl is also herself.”
Campion said she discovered the Routeback Track 15 years ago. “I found there was a real place called Paradise at the top of Diamond Lake, extraordinarily lovely, and that the people that had settled there had been dreamers. But it was also a place where great hopes were built and dashed. It made me curious about notions of paradise—the idea of a wilderness paradise that is liberating and real and a place to get away from it all, but yet one with a dark side. This was one of the most challenging projects I’ve ever taken on, but it also feels like one of the most rewarding.”
Campion and Lee took the idea for the film to producers Emile Sherman and Ian Canning at SeeSaw Films. With a needed budget about double that for a regular TV series, they enlisted the help of BBC Two, UKTV and the Sundance Channel. So this collaboration will be shown worldwide.
“I’ve always been a huge fan of Jane’s,” Moss said during her first-ever visit to the Sundance Film Festival, an experience she told me was overwhelming, and wonderful. “She does such incredible work, and they always have her own sensibility about them. She’s the epitome of the actor’s director, so getting the opportunity to learn from her and be challenged by her has been an incredible experience.”
Moss, whose work in the miniseries has been highly praised from those who saw the premiere, said the role of Robin “was one of those incredible female roles that are really rare—where you have a character who is strong and feminine, who has a lot to do and who has an incredible emotional journey.” She expressed appreciation for “how comfortable everyone on our crew made me feel, particularly with the number of intimate scenes in this film.”
Hunter plays GJ, leader of a tribe of forgotten, broken down and almost invisible women who’ve set up a camp in Paradise. By her own account, Hunter (who teamed with Campion and won her Academy Award for “The Piano”), says GJ is “hard to describe. It’s questioned as to whether she’s a man or a woman, and that androgyny was very interesting to me.” Clearly, Hunter’s appearance will shock some viewers—very long, gray hair for starters. As always, her character is in control, both personally as well as with the other characters on screen. Besides the opportunity to work with Campion, Hunter said she was drawn to her character, and this story, because of its relevance to the “finding my true self” generation of today.
“The self-help sections of national bookstore chains are usually among the largest sections,” she said. “People have always searched for answers, seeking some relief from their own mortality. I think people probably feel a little more disenfranchised now than they ever have. So they get into these ‘electronic families’ or communities which don’t really provide the relief they’d sought. But it gives them hope.”
As Campion said at the larger press conference, “the idea of the search for happiness has a literal representation in ‘Top of the Lake.’ I wanted to write about a group of women who feel like they’ve fallen off the edge of the Earth.” That story is woven into the fabric of this amazing miniseries.
“Top of the Lake” will begin with a two-hour premiere on March 18. A complete broadcast schedule is available online at http://www.sundancechannel.com.