Picnic at Hanging Rock gets a haunting new remake

by Fiona Rae / 13 May, 2018
RelatedArticlesModule - Picnic at Hanging Rock

Picnic at Hanging Rock.

A new six-part adaptation of Australian classic Picnic at Hanging Rock is more harsh LSD than magic mushroom.

There are similarities to Peter Weir’s landmark 1975 film, but the new adaptation of Picnic at Hanging Rock (SoHo, Sky 010, Sunday, 8.30pm) is a harsh LSD trip by comparison with Weir’s dreamy magic-mushroom psychedelia.

The six-part series, set in a vast Italianate mansion in 1900, lurches between a supernatural mystery and a Gothic horror. Based on Joan Lindsay’s 1967 book, now considered an Australian classic, it’s the story of the disappearance of three schoolgirls and their teacher while on a picnic at the ominously named rock formation of the title.

Outdoor scenes are filmed in heightened, almost Day-Glo, colours. During the search for the girls, Barbie-pink intertitles tell us how many days they’ve been gone. At the school, it’s all candle-lit corridors and faces emerging from shadows.

Heading a cast of emerging Australian talent, Game of Thrones’ Natalie Dormer was enticed by the producers for the central role of Hester Appleyard, the headmistress of a school for young ladies. Ah, but she has secrets and she is terrifyingly cruel, and as the mystery of the girls’ disappearance deepens, she starts to unravel.

There is a contemporary element that stretches beyond the central mystery: the series addresses more-modern concerns of self-determination and freedom for the young women, some of whom are chafing at the Victorian restrictions.

The girls are tightly controlled, their spirits and sexuality repressed. When feisty Miranda (Lily Sullivan) is caught running barefoot in the woods in her nightie, she is caned until her hands bleed.

“Appleyard thinks the way she is raising the girls is doing them a favour,” Dormer told Variety. “She genuinely thinks she’s passing on the torch of knowledge. What she’s actually doing is passing on archaic structures that stifle those girls’ spirits.”

When one of the teachers suggests that the development of the Federation of Australia is the chance for “a fresh start”, Appleyard tartly replies, “A fresh start from what?”

That kind of strict adherence to tradition is difficult to maintain, however, when you’re in an ancient, untamed environment and Appleyard’s disintegration was a drawcard for Dormer.

“She’s victimised and haunted by her past and her secrets, and her way of trying to deal with that is holding it tightly and putting a lid on it and being this tyrant,” she says. “As the layers fall off, she keeps scrambling to try to maintain control.”

This article was first published in the May 12, 2018 issue of the New Zealand Listener.


Brexit: What does it mean for NZ trade?
101342 2019-01-17 11:06:05Z Economy

Brexit: What does it mean for NZ trade?

by RNZ

Brexit: Theresa May survives no-confidence vote but what does that mean for NZ trade?

Read more
How the unleashed power of technology has radically changed U.S ideals
101292 2019-01-17 00:00:00Z World

How the unleashed power of technology has radicall…

by Anthony Byrt

These Truths is a noble attempt to counter the collective attention-deficit syndrome Zuckerberg and his pals have created in all of us.

Read more
Tiny Ruins gives us reasons to be cheerful on new album Olympic Girls
Catherine Lacey's Certain American States is America as black comedy
101259 2019-01-17 00:00:00Z Books

Catherine Lacey's Certain American States is Ameri…

by Charlotte Grimshaw

It's a matter of taste, the degree to which readers can tolerate the harshness of these stories.

Read more
Dopesick: A humanising look at America's opioid epidemic
101276 2019-01-17 00:00:00Z Books

Dopesick: A humanising look at America's opioid ep…

by Russell Brown

Drug companies have a lot to answer for in regard to America’s opioid crisis, as Beth Macy's new book Dopesick reveals.

Read more
The psychological problems with trigger warnings
101153 2019-01-17 00:00:00Z Psychology

The psychological problems with trigger warnings

by Marc Wilson

The suggestion that you’re about to be exposed to something unpleasant can actually make it worse.

Read more
Why the SPCA aren't completely wrong about 1080 poison
101325 2019-01-17 00:00:00Z Planet

Why the SPCA aren't completely wrong about 1080 po…

by The Listener

In its advocacy against 1080 poison, the SPCA has fallen out of step with this country’s conservation priorities, but they have a point.

Read more
'If NZ stopped importing fabric and clothing, we’d be fine'
101236 2019-01-16 09:00:15Z Planet

'If NZ stopped importing fabric and clothing, we’d…

by RNZ

Christchurch designer Steven Junil says clothing, once considered precious, has now become disposable.

Read more