Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Catch Up TV... Missed the TV Moment Everyone's Talking about? Alastair McKay Sings the Praises of Elisabeth Moss in Both the Handmaid's Tale and Top of the Lake

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Catch Up TV... Missed the TV Moment Everyone's Talking about? Alastair McKay Sings the Praises of Elisabeth Moss in Both the Handmaid's Tale and Top of the Lake

Article excerpt

WHEN is a cop drama not a cop drama? When it's made by Jane Campion and stars Elisabeth Moss, an actor whose ambivalent face currently haunts two great feminist dramas. In The Handmaid's Tale (All 4), she has to struggle to reach that ambivalence, as her character is a prisoner and occasional sex slave in a dystopian United States, which looks nothing like now, apart from the authoritarianism and the groupthink and the institutionalised sexism. (The sexual politics in this harrowing, sometimes grim adaptation of Margaret Atwood's book are pitched somewhere between IS and the Magdalene Laundries).

But the cop show that isn't, Top of the Lake: China Girl (BBC iPlayer), has Moss as a detective trying to discover how a suitcase containing a woman's body floated to the surface on Bondi Beach in Sydney. At least, that's what she's supposed to be doing. The six parts of Campion's drama do not unfold like a conventional police drama, and there are long periods where the case is all but forgotten. What happens instead is that Moss's character, Robin, gets wrapped up in her own unfolding drama, most of which is rooted in sexual abuse of one kind or another.

There is a big coincidence in the plot, but that's often the case in cop shows. Here, though, it highlights the fact that Campion is actually offering a forensic study of the sex industry, the commodification of desire and the economic exploitation that is inherent in prostitution and surrogacy, the institutionalised sexism of the workplace and the warped promises of Seventies feminism. In the middle of this, Robin has to try to forge some sort of relationship with Mary (Campion's daughter, Alice Englert), the child she was forced to give up after being raped at the age of 15.

Cagney and Lacey it ain't, though Robin is teamed with Miranda (Gwendoline Christie), who is approximately three feet taller than she is and one of the strangest TV cops outside of Twin Peaks. …

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