Foxtel’s Picnic at Hanging Rock
Directed by Larysa Kondracki
Written by Beatrix Christian
* For a recap & review of Episode 2, click here.
Do you know the tale of what happened in 1900 during the picnic at Hanging Rock? Well, either way— let’s dig in.
Mrs. Hester Appleyard (Natalie Dormer) sought out a palatial home where she’d open a school for girls, after the passing of her husband Arthur (Philip Quast). She’s a woman all about appearances, as well as perception. She finds a grand place to open her school, a beautiful, sprawling estate at the “ass end of the world” in Australia. It’s not just a school, but a way for her to start over. But, from what is she fleeing?
Soon enough the place is crawling with girls. A young woman called Miranda Reid (Lily Sullivan) is clearly one of the more eccentric of the ladies. The remainder of the girls aren’t as wild— Irma (Samara Weaving), Marion (Madeleine Madden), Blanche (Bethany Whitmore), Rosamund (Mayah Fredes), Lily and Rose Kenton (Alyssa Tuddenham & Kate Bradford), and more. Then there’s the staff, from Mademoiselle Dianne de Poitiers (Lola Bessis) to Miss Greta McCraw (Anna McGahan) and a few others.
The ladies of the school are heading outside for a celebration, which includes others from the nearby town. Soldiers are led through as a parade-like stroll, ready to head off to battle soon. An interesting juxtaposition between the young women and the young men, each dispatched to their own kind of fates. The boys are sent off to die, while the girls are stuck at home and forced into lives they haven’t chosen for themselves, either. All of which is determined by the older generation(s). Of course Widow Appleyard has her own intentions for trying to school these young ladies.
There’s a bit of an incident when Mrs. Appleyard finds Miranda being accosted by a lad in the stables, and Miranda puts a pitchfork in his foot. Hester’s quick to do what she can to cover the whole thing up. She’s fast on her feet, fast in the mind. And she’s surely had experience dealing with ugly men.
All the girls worry, though they’re also curious about where the widow actually came from— fairly obvious she’s been in some rough places. Later, Miranda gets called in to see the headmistress, who’s not happy about the college’s reputation nearly getting smeared. Hester calls Miranda “ruinously spoiled,” and warns her of the realities of her situation. Seems she won’t get anything from her family, like her brothers, so she, essentially, has to marry into something good. Those are her sad options in 1900 Australia.
The big picnic is coming up. Headmistress Appleyard prepares them, explaining how dangerous Hanging Rock can be if unprepared. Including coming across poisonous snakes and treacherous environment. Nevertheless, the girls are all excited to be out in the wild again. Here we see some themes of the domesticated life being forced on women confronted with that wilderness, a space without safety, without boundaries, so on. At the same time, Edith (Ruby Rees) has had a good fright discovering her “monthly blood has arrived.”
Many big things happening. Not to mention Mrs. Appleyard is keeping little former orphan Sara (Inez Currõ) from going on the picnic, as a way to punish Miranda further, seeing as how the two are close. This prompts them to come up with a bit of a plot to get back at their headmistress. Blackmail. This gets Miranda back on the picnic excursion.
“Let’s burn her”
Off they all go, headed for the Hanging Rock. They’re a sight to see passing through town. Everybody notices the girls of the college and their teachers wherever they go. Some of the women are friendly with men in town. And certainly we can’t forget the possibly assaulter nursing a fucked up foot from his encounter with Miranda. Lots of possibilities going forward.
Plenty of eerie little moments already, such as the two unknown men passing the girls on their way to the picnic. Tiny bits that start adding up to more as the time passes. Then there’s the gorgeous and haunting atmosphere of the Australian wilderness, coupled with the cinematography capturing everything so vividly and the score/sound design bearing down on the viewer with an undeniably foreboding atmosphere that constantly creeps up.
Back at the school, Mistress Appleyard cleans Sara up— the girl’s got nasty cuts on her inner thighs, over her legs. But the woman is a sadist, and she’s also concerned about the blackmail, the little tin the girl and Miranda found. There are deep, dark corners in Hester’s life. Many skeletons in that closet.
During the picnic, most of the girls fall asleep. Except for Miranda, Irma, and Marion. Some of the chaperones experience their stopwatches freezing. There’s a strange air about the forest, an ephemeral breeze bringing something with it. It drives Miranda, Irma, and Marion to want to go look closer at the Hanging Rock. They’re allowed to go, long as they bring Edith.
And so, up, up into the hills they go. Simultaneously, at the school, Hester’s having surreal and terrifying dreams. Apparently she’s had them before. She also talks to her dead husband as if he’s right in the room with her. It’s no better waking up to news three of her girls have disappeared. A waking nightmare. Only Edith’s left of the group, screaming wildly into the trees– the other trio of ladies are nowhere to be found.
A haunting, trippy first episode. I’m a massive fan of the original film, so I’m reserving my full judgement until the end of the series. This was good enough to pique my interest. Consider me in for the ride! Bring on Episode 2.