More than almost 45 years since it was made, Peter Weir’s adaptation of PICNIC AT HANGING ROCK is still one of the most famous films in Australian cinema. This six-part adaptation of Joan Lindsey’s novel stars Natalie Dormer (best known for playing ill-destined Margaery Tyrell in Game of Thrones) as widow-turned headmistress Hester Appleyard.
It’s the end of the nineteenth century and outwardly Hester is your classic well-bred widow. Her coarse inner monologue is quite the opposite and even after she’s flipped back her lacy black veil, she’s shrouded in mystery throughout the episode.
For reasons yet unknown, Hester sets up a respectable boarding school for girls. As we are told at the start of the episode - on Valentine’s Day 1900, her schoolgirls all go for a picnic at Hanging Rock. Four of them disappear.
The original film had a wispy seventies aesthetic about it and this version also has a contemporary aesthetic (hot pink title on black background looks like St Trinians).
Sometimes this feels a bit overdone - Mrs Appleyard’s ominous dream looks like a punk version of Alice in Wonderland, but it’s more interesting than the BBC’s one-size-fits-all aesthetic approach to period drama. Dormer’s outfits are particularly (often comically) flamboyant, adding to her bizarreness. At the picnic, the girls are symbolically clad in white.
At the moment, lead rebel Miranda Reid (Lily Sullivan), porcelain beauty Irma Leopold (Samara Weaving) and little Sara Waybourne (Inez Curro), the subject of cruel punishment by Mrs Appleyard, stand out, although what role they will ultimately play is unclear.
We only get a little glimpse of men - one man’s unwelcome advances in the stables are cut short by a rake stabbed into his foot. Mrs Appleyard has taught her girls well. I’m not familiar with the source material or the 1975 film; however it’s surely no coincidence that they disappear on Valentine’s Day.
I like the off-beat feel - not your typical period drama, although I'm not sure how they're going to stretch this out to six hours (admittedly I haven't read the original novel) and whether the weirdness will become weary.
It's atmospheric rather than plot driven, with its central mystery not emerging until the end of the first episode.
I do like period-set boarding school dramas with hothouse atmospheres and unconventional teachers and I think I quite like this one.
- Watched on BBC2. 11/07/2018