Campion's fine mystery lost on UKTV

TOP OF THE LAKE: Not pretty, but the best of non-British TV.
TOP OF THE LAKE: Not pretty, but the best of non-British TV.

Without for a second denigrating its excitingness and eerie atmospherics, the biggest mystery of Monday's new Top of the Lake thriller is why it's on UKTV.

Not only is it not a British programme (it's an Australian production made in and by New Zealand) but it has "prime time" hype written all over it.

Sky is obviously trying to build up the audience for this boutique nana- and-pop-favourite channel, but it's a confusing way to do it.

The next mystery is how crabby some locals, including film industry types, have been about it.

Someone seems to have decided it's Jane Campion's turn for a Hobbiting - ie, she's had far too much success, so it's time to pick a few holes in her work.

Here you'd have to diagnose a combination of envy, and a weak stomach for the telling of what is a resonating story about heartland New Zealand which is not pretty.

Young girls, like Tui (a luminous Jacqueline Joe, surely a future star), do get sexually abused. Brutal gang empires do flourish under the noses of the authorities. And cults involving the wealthy worried well on self-involved voyages of psychic healing do make one's slapping hand itch.

The series opens with Tui walking slowly into a ravishingly lovely Queenstown lake. Rescued from this apparent suicide bid, she is obviously traumatised and terrified.

But she comes to herself in time, helped by a resourceful police officer (Mad Men's Elizabeth Moss). Tui is several months pregnant, and is in the monstrously inappropriate custody of her father, local criminal standover-merchant Matt (Peter Mullan, who though ferally repulsive here, has a rumbling Scots brogue that always weakens this reviewer's knee ligaments).

Concurrent to his coming under suspicion for Tui's abuse, he is on a homicidal tear about the sale of land he had dibs on to a women's self-help colony, headed by the sinisterly dissociated guru G J (Holly Hunter).

When Tui flees into its maw, it's a matter of who might kill her first, the landscape or her abuser.

In a sense, this is the story of two cults and two charismatic leaders both narcissistically determined the world will conform to their requirements, and the difficulty of the less well- regulated, like police, in laying a glove on the resulting evil.

Knockers notwithstanding, it's the best of not-British.

The Dominion Post