Wakatipu-shot television drama has debut on UKTV tonight

New Zealand satellite television viewers can watch the first episode of Top of the Lake tonight, an acclaimed crime drama inspired by the landscape near the Routeburn Track which film-maker Jane Campion found 15 years ago.

''I discovered that 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,'' Campion said.

Top of the Lake cast members (from left) Robyn Malcolm, Georgi Kay and Holly Hunter, are quizzed by Elizabeth Moss in the women's refuge beside Moke Lake. The Wakatipu-fimed series begins tonight on UKTV. Photo from UKTV.
Top of the Lake cast members (from left) Robyn Malcolm, Georgi Kay and Holly Hunter, are quizzed by Elizabeth Moss in the women's refuge beside Moke Lake. The Wakatipu-fimed series begins tonight on UKTV. Photo from UKTV.
''But it was also a place where great hopes were built and dashed. It made me very curious about notions of paradise - the idea of a wilderness paradise, something that's liberating and real, a place for people wanting to get away from everything.

''But then there's the dark side of it.''

Cut to Queenstown in June last year and co-directors Campion and Garth Davis wrapped a gruelling four-month location shoot involving up to 200 cast and crew members, to produce six one-hour episodes of feature film quality drama, starring a wealth of transtasman and transatlantic talent.

Campion had nothing but praise for her two typically strong leading ladies - three-time Emmy-nominated actress Elisabeth Moss (Mad Men), as Detective Robin Griffin, and Holly Hunter, as acerbic women's refuge guru ''G.J.''.

''It's a strange thing when you go to cast your leading character and you find yourself having not a clue who they are,'' Campion said.

''I just wanted somebody to show me who is Robin Griffin. And no-one did that in a way that convinced us all until the Elisabeth Moss audition tape came in.

''She brought the dialogue into a place where it felt deep and true and complex and she did it quite quietly. I was really surprised, but I totally believed her.''

Campion wrote the character of G.J. with Hunter in mind and many have commented on how G.J. resembled the film-maker.

Hunter won an Academy Award for best actress in The Piano, Campion's previous homegrown production, two decades ago.

''Meeting her again and seeing her as a more mature woman, it was just absolutely exciting and brilliant,'' Campion said.

''I think it was an opportunity for us to build on the trust and the relationship we had from doing The Piano. We work together like sisters.''

Moss said Queenstown was the adventure capital of the world, but described herself as the least adventurous person in the world, ''so it was kind of funny me coming to a place where there's like paragliding and parasailing and bungy jumping and all this crazy stuff that I would never do in a million years.

''So I've taken the calmer route of Queenstown, which is the lovely restaurants, the wineries, the steamship.

''The best thing about this project is that it's been like a tour of the South Island. So many times we'll be shooting in the bush, or by a lake and it's just so extraordinarily beautiful.''

Top of the Lake screens on Mondays at 8.30pm on UKTV.

Paradise

So, there was an actual 'Paradise' community. Whoever they were, they are ill represented in 'Lake', which is sardonic about female collective empowerment. Old Albert is no sheila, of course.