Inspired by mini-series "Carlos" and backed by the BBC, Sundance Channel and Arte, "King's Speech" producers Emile Sherman and Iain Canning, Campion, co-writer Gerard Lee ("Sweetie"), and co-director Garth Davis had a decent budget with which to conjure up a moody world where men and women do not get along and domestic violence is a given.
Campion wanted to work with commercial director Davis, she told me before Sundance, because "he was innovative, and responded to the material. It gave me a chance to expand and play with the characters and really enjoy them in a way you can't with features. I had a great time, although it was stressful making it. We had to shoot 90 minutes every four and a half weeks!"
They split the episodes, with Campion shooting the first, fourth and last. The local sheriff ("300"'s David Wenham) and his team resent the presence of big-city detective Robin Griffin ("Mad Men" star Elizabeth Moss) who happens to be visiting her ill mother and is called in to help when a 12-year-old girl walks into the freezing lake and turns out to be five months pregnant.
Griffin suspects that the father is the girl's tough-scrabble dad Matt Mitcham (Peter Mullen), a violent thug who nobody wants to confront, most especially the hapless real estate broker who allows a wellness guru (Holly Hunter) and her flock of damaged women to settle in open trailers on the stunning piece of lake-front property called Paradise. That's because as far as Mitcham and his rangy horse-riding gun-toting kids are concerned, it's theirs.
This hardboiled New Zealand procedural boasts a scenic landscape rife with violent undercurrents. Campion creates yet another woman detective who faces deep layers of cultural misogyny, not unlike "Prime Suspect" or "The Killing." It's also like a gender-reversed "Justified," in that the cop is reluctantly returning to navigate all-too familiar home turf. Moss is more sexy and athletic in this contemporary role than she is on "Mad Men."
Campion compares the long form to reading a novel: "You can live with the characters, live inside a world and an experience. I remember seeing 'Deadwood' for the first time and jumping off my seat, it was so radical, so exciting. With feature filmmaking you feel a little bit gagged by the need to attract audiences, to be audience-friendly, which stops you in a way from being challenging and innovative and exciting. It was a shock to feel provocation and support for an artist."
I can't wait to watch the rest of the series. Review round-up below.