Picnic at Hanging Rock – Review

Picnic at Hanging Rock is now available to stream on Amazon Prime.

This Australian six part mini-series is based on the Australian novel by Joan Lindsay and the 1975 film adaptation by Peter Weir. This reimagining of the iconic story plunges us into the vanishings of three schoolgirls and their governess on Valentine’s Day, 1900. All three are students at the Appleyard Ladies College. The series traces the events leading up to school trip to Hanging Rock, and continues through the search for the girls and the disappearance’s effect on the students and staff of the College, their mysterious headmistress, Miss Appleyard (Natalie Dormer), and the nearby townspeople.

The first half of the series is shrouded in mystery. Who really is Miss Appleyard? It’s clear as we are introduced to her that there is a background story we don’t know and have yet to learn. Who are the girls placed under her care? Via flashbacks, viewers begin to learn something about each of their backgrounds. What happened up on top of Hanging Rock? The one student that returns doesn’t know. As the search proceeds, one wonders if there is an element of science fiction in this story. Did something supernatural occur on the mountain? Or is this a case of foul play?

It’s unusual to have a series that is so driven by an ensemble of female actresses; the men here all play minor roles. The teachers (including Yael Stone of Orange is the New Black) and the young female students all give engaging performances. The introduction of new actresses we can hope to see again is exciting. Led by Dormer, they are called upon to play complicated, unpleasant characters and rise to the task.

There is a feminist tone to the series: although I don’t yet know the resolution to the series, men are clearly aggressors according to original story and even more so in this adaptation. Women are always supervised; how could they disappear? Were the girls trying to escape, as they were approaching graduation and were dreading their futures?

I’m definitely engaged enough from the first installments to want to continue and learn how the story ends. The episodes are a bit slow at times and they are almost each a full hour long. But the scenery and the period costumes are beautiful, making the episodes visually appealing. A good mystery always makes for good television.

I give Picnic at Hanging Rock a B+.

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