Top of the Lake, The New Zealand Lifestyle Writ Large

Earlier this year we blogged about the UKTV/BBC mini series Top of the Lake, 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.

In the land where fantasy has officially become reality it’s good to see a show which presents Zealand in a more realistic, down to earth way. In this series reality has become fantasy.

The story line of Top of the Lake goes to some very dark places physically and metaphorically as it follows the unexplained disappearance of Tui and the back stories of its main characters.

Tui is a raped and pregnant twelve year old from a small NZ township and the daughter of a local drug lord with psychopathic tendencies.  (Yes, there are drug lords in New Zealand) and teen pregnancy is not just an issue but a big one. NZ has one of the highest rates of teen pregnancy in the developed world and its abortion rates aren’t far behind.

Tui is played by Jacqueline Joe who gave a strong performance in the opening episode.

But the stronger appearance was that of the darkly brooding and often harsh  NZ landscape and the people who inhabit it. The sub-text is that it is a hard place that breeds hard people who mistake hardness for toughness, compassion as a weakness. There is little room for joy in life, nor is there an idyllic rending of the “New Zealand lifestyle”.  Even in Paradise there are snakes in the grass, and the grass is dry, brittle and yellow.

The storyline wastes no time in exploring succinctly some uncomfortable truths about New Zealand. Its as if its Campion is saying – ‘let’s go there, we’re getting it out right from the start’

In the first scene we are blasted with the taboo subject of youth suicide ( a major problem in New Zealand and the highest for girls in the OECD) teen pregnancy, abortion, child abuse, domestic violence, children having access to firearms, male police officers’ insensitivity to rape victims (Louise Nicholas and Roastbusters scandal) casual murder (of an estate agent) by drowning (NZ drownings rates are high with over 100 annually) and drugs. All of which are uncomfortable truths New Zealand doesn’t want the outside world to examine too closely.

It sounds patronising, but sometimes I feel sorry for New Zealand. We’re a curious anomaly. One day the country is rated as one of the best places in the world to live, most peaceful, best quality of life, best cities to visit, best coastline, best leisure sports. For such a small population, we do incredibly well at certain things and appear, from the outside, to be at one with the environment. Yet, at the same time, there’s high teen suicide and pregnancy rates, high alcohol consumption, high rates of bullying, domestic violence and child abuse.

If New Zealand is such a fabulous place to live, why are we leaving?…” read more on MSN Money NZ

This sort of dirty laundry is best washed in private and New Zealanders are unaccustomed to seeing anything but positive messages about their country, usually set against a backdrop of CGI enhanced scenery reaffirming for them how good it is to live there. Accordingly, we predict there will be a backlash against the series within New Zealand, for being too realistic, too dour and too damn entertaining.

We have a feeling that Top of the Lake is going to be compulsory viewing alongside Once Were Warriors for anyone wanting to get a taste for the real New Zealand lifestyle.

Have you seen the series, what did you think about it? Let us know.


News Daily: The Miami Herald
“The pregnancy and the girl’s eerie attempt to commit suicide by walking into a lake are clearly only the tip of an evil iceberg in Lakeside, a gorgeous little mountain town that looks like a resort but is populated mostly with rednecks and loons. The spectrum of social deviancy runs from the nutball inhabitants of a feminist commune full of women fleeing everything from abusive husbands to killer chimpanzees on one end, to murderous pedophiles on the other…

Creepy and cockeyed, unholy and unnerving, Top Of The Lake is riveting stuff.”

“It’s a meticulous, lived-in police procedural, a portrait of a specific community, and a look at the pervasive sexism that complicates nearly every transaction between men and women, professional or personal…

Campion’s narrative landscapes are as female in their imagery and concerns as Martin Scorsese’s are male, utterly and unapologetically so; a lot of the situations depicted within them — especially Robin’s interactions with the all-male police force, which constantly strives to diminish her and put her in her “place” even though most of them never think of themselves as misogynists — will resonate powerfully in the aftermath of Steubenville and the related discussions of rape culture and ingrained sexism…”

“Gets beneath the skin by examining the state of isolation at the bottom of the world.”

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One thought on “Top of the Lake, The New Zealand Lifestyle Writ Large

  1. Admin,

    ‘Top of the Lake’ has finally arrived on free-to-air TV here in Australia, after the first episode I’m not sure what to make of it as entertainment. I’ll wait and see.
    I’d be surprised as the script suggests, if an Australian detective could readily become part of a local force in NZ and in the promo for the series she’s pictured with a gun.
    It seems deliberate rather than a mistake.
    I did notice the sound of banjos though, everywhere.

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