Warning: This story contains spoilers about Top of the Lake‘s first season. Read at your own risk!
A Cannes staple teamed with the newest member of the Croisette’s royal court for another dive into the world of dark, down-under mystery, as Jane Campion — herself a Palme d’Or winner who also served as president of the festival’s 2014 jury — launched the second installment of her crime series. Top of the Lake: China Girl features Nicole Kidman in the third of four projects she is setting sail this year on the shores of southern France, and it was met with glowing reviews (and a sustained standing ovation) from attendees.
Each of the show’s six episodes (it’s billed as a limited engagement, set to air in the U.K. on BBC2 in July, followed by a domestic premiere on the Sundance Channel in September) screened in succession Tuesday at Cannes, with stars Elisabeth Moss (reprising her role as Detective Robin Griffin), Kidman, and Game of Thrones‘ Gwendoline Christie in attendance.
Subtitled China Girl, Top of the Lake‘s second go-round follows Det. Griffin back to Australia, where she delves into the case of an unidentified Asian woman who washes ashore on Bondi Beach inside a suitcase, shortly after the events of season 1, which saw her solving the case of a missing youth before uncovering a grim sex trafficking circle in a small New Zealand town.
The project marks Campion’s first directorial effort since helming six of the first season’s seven episodes, though she hasn’t made a film since 2009, when she released the Abbie Cornish-starring period piece Bright Star; her return to Cannes this year — where her 1993 film The Piano tied with Chen Kaige’s Farewell My Concubine for the festival’s top prize — is, as expected, being hailed as a welcome resurgence for the 63-year-old auteur.
“The mystery may move from the top of the lake to the depths of the ocean, but the tension, turmoil, and totally addictive drama remain the same in Top of the Lake: China Girl, the gripping follow-up to Jane Campion’s great 2013 miniseries,” Todd McCarthy writes of the first two episodes for The Hollywood Reporter. “With its sharp writing, superior cast, evocative locations, seductively seamy subject matter and delicious performances, Top of the Lake is decidedly back in a major way… ”
“The show still has plenty to say about womanhood and the way it can be subjugated and commodified. It’s still as gloriously weird as ever, with dialogue that starts off as prosaic and stretches into entirely unexpected places. And of course it remains gorgeous to look at: a shot of the suitcase bobbing listlessly in the ocean looks lovely until you remember what’s inside it,” The Guardian‘s Gwilym Mumford observes. “In short, Top of the Lake is still Top of the Lake. Even if it might not float the boat of the Cannes kingmakers, it remains a treasure for those more open to the charms of the small screen.”
Top of the Lake: China Girl makes history this year as part of Cannes’ inaugural TV slate, a double billing shared with fellow Cannes fixture David Lynch’s Twin Peaks revival, which bowed on domestic sets Sunday, May 21 on Showtime. While festival artistic director Thierry Frémaux memorably declared Cannes solely “a film festival” just last year, perhaps signaling a reluctance to embrace the medium despite other world-renowned festivals like TIFF and Tribeca incorporating TV shows into their lineups, Cannes has finally shifted its focus to the small screen, where some of cinema’s foremost international influencers are doing fine work, and critics seemingly couldn’t be happier.
“… By far the best thing I’ve seen at my first Cannes is… a television show,” IndieWire’s David Ehrlich tweeted shortly after the series’ marathon bow. He later responded to a message posted by TIFF’s artistic director, Cameron Bailey, who called the series “brilliant” in a social media post of his own, prompting him to include China Girl as part of the Toronto lineup this fall: “Screen the whole shebang at TIFF and I will personally drag every film critic I know into the auditorium.”
Following a comeback on the Oscar circuit with Garth Davis’ (who also directed several episodes of Top of the Lake‘s first season) Lion, Kidman, who earned stellar notices for her work in HBOs seven-part limited series Big Little Lies earlier this year, takes another crack at episodic drama with China Girl on top of a slew of theatrical features set to be released through the fall. The 49-year-old got off to a shaky start at Cannes over the weekend, with John Cameron Mitchell’s How to Talk to Girls at Parties underwhelming journalists out of competition, while Yorgos Lanthimos’ directorial follow-up to The Lobster, The Killing of a Sacred Deer, debuted to audience boos (yet high critical praise) on Monday.
On deck, Kidman appears in Sofia Coppola’s The Beguiled, which has its first press screenings for Cannes critics on Wednesday ahead of a June 23 U.S. release. With three films and a high-profile prestige TV project at the annual festival, Kidman, who’s yet to win a major Cannes accolade, seems to be a strong contender for this year’s best actress prize.