“Top of the Lake” Mini Series Offers An Alternative View of Middle-Earth

lake moke

Top of the Lake – Lake Moke, from Tripadvisor.com

A new TV mini series which has just finished screening is offering a tantalisingly different view of New Zealand to the one promoted by films like the Hobbit and Lord of the Rings. In the land where fantasy has officially become reality it’s good to see a show which presents in the country in a more realistic, down to earth way.

Plot outline, look away now

The story line of Top of the Lake goes to some very dark places as it follows the unexplained disappearance of Tui, a raped and pregnant twelve year old from a small NZ township who is the daughter of a local drug lord. Tui is played by  Jacqueline Joe. She is carrying the child of the local head-of-police and was drugged (rohipnol) and raped in a child sex ring he managed.

Filmed in and around Queenstown and Lake Moke, directed by Jane Campion and Garth Davis the series co-stars Holly Hunter, Peter Mullan and Lucy Lawless.

A brief synopsis:

“Investigative detective Robin Griffin (Elizabeth Moss) must lose herself in order to find the missing girl. During the investigation, she collides with Matt Mitcham (Peter Mullan), Tui’s father, a local drug lord, and G.J (Holly Hunter), a guru at a local women’s camp. As the case unfolds, in a paradise where honest work is hard to find, Robin will find that her limits are tested, sending her on a journey of self-discovery.”

The Hollywood Reporter says of the show

“New Zealand is primarily known for the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit films but it was important for the people behind Top of the Lake to show a different side to the region.
It’s the most comprehensive documentation of modern New Zealand that’s ever been done at such a large scale,” Moss said. “We show a very different, much more modern, much grittier, much more raw side of it. By the end of production, we couldn’t pass a place we didn’t shoot in.”

Filming took roughly five to six months, primarily in Queenstown and a town about 40 minutes outside of it. Moss, who left for New Zealand days after finishing season five of Mad Men, reminisced about the off-the-cuff rehearsals in a shed with no heating (“it was cold”) and production having one satellite phone so they call into town…”

According to IMDb, the ABC pulled out of its $600,00 commitment when an American was cast in the role of Robin Griffin.

It is not known if New Zealand on Air or any other funding stream was made available from New Zealand. Perhaps big budget films portraying New Zealand in a positive light get first call on government funding?

“The Australian Broadcasting Corporation was set to co-produce and help fund the production but pulled out of its deal when Jane Campion cast American Elisabeth Moss in the lead role. The Australian Broadcasting Corporation had only agreed to help fund the project if an Australian or  New Zealander was cast in the lead role. After they left the project, UKTV stepped in to co-produce and replace the lost funding. “

Top of the Lake is due to screen on Sundance Channel in the US on 18 March and also on BBC Worldwide and UKTV.