Writer-director Jane Campion’s seven-part miniseries “Top of the Lake” is easily one of the best television dramas of the past few years, a return to form for the New Zealand-born director of “The Piano” and “Sweetie.” It is also a remarkable showcase for Elizabeth Moss, an indication that there are deep dramatic reserves behind the actress’ stellar work as Peggy Olson on “Mad Men.”
Moss plays Robin Griffin, a Sydney, Australia, police detective who returns to her native New Zealand to care for her ailing mother (Robyn Nevin), but is asked to work with local authorities when 12-year-old pregnant girl Tui Mitcham (Jacqueline Joe) disappears. The investigation turns out to be physically and emotionally hazardous for Robin, since unraveling the details behind Tui’s disappearance leads to more ugly secrets, including long-hidden parts of Robin’s own past and the deep influence of Tui’s father, Matt Mitcham.
In a performance that closely evokes Harvey Keitel’s wildly charismatic work in “The Piano,” Peter Mullen plays Mitcham as a menacing, bipolar manipulator, a criminal who controls nearly every aspect of life in the small community. But Mullen’s intensity is matched at every turn by Moss, who is quietly amazing as Robin, and by Holly Hunter as GJ, an eccentric loner who appears to be turning a shelter for traumatized women into a cult. Originally shown on BBC2 and The Sundance Channel this spring, “Top of the Lake” is available in its entirety on Netflix, and is worthy of a rewarding, no-breaks binge-viewing session.