Foxtel’s Picnic at Hanging Rock
Directed by Larysa Kondracki
Written by Beatrix Christian
* For a recap & review of Episode 1, click here.
* For a recap & review of Episode 3, click here.
Three of the young women and one of the teachers from the college have gone missing in the Outback at Hanging Rock. Headmistress Hester Appleyard (Natalie Dormer) tells the rest of the girls that Irma (Samara Weaving), Marion (Madeleine Madden), Miranda (Lily Sullivan), and Ms. Greta McCraw (Anna McGahan) disappeared while up at Hanging Rock, aka Mount Diogenes. The Widow tells them all to rest. She also makes sure to tell them not to be writing home, worrying anybody. I’m sure she’d like to keep things under wraps.
Meanwhile, the search is on out near the mountain. All sorts of men from town are out scouring the forest. Michael Fitzhubert (Harrison Gilbertson) tells the others of seeing the girls before they went missing: “Suddenly, they disappeared.” Funny to see a divide between the working class and the gentry, as nobody’s too interested in what the young man believes he saw. That’s what’s fascinating about the school itself, too. There’s a striking juxtaposition between the Outback and the so-called civilised places, the cities, so on— a separation between rural and urban as wild and safe respectively. In Australia, a still burgeoning nation in many regards at the start of the 20th century, this theme is even more relevant.
There’s a general feeling now at the college of safety being obliterated. Now, Hester has Dr. Mackenzie (Don Hany) in to talk with Edith (Ruby Rees), who came down from Hanging Rock screaming. She says her stomach hurt, then she “went to sleep.” That’s all. Mystery abounds.
In the mountains, the men searching find strange occurrences the further they go, such as the familiar stopping of watches, a “disturbance in the magnetic field.” The men talk about black folklore about Hanging Rock. Many of the black Australians won’t stay up in the hills after dark, for fear of what might lurk there. This calls the search off for the day, after the sun begins going down.
Everyone is being questioned. The men, the girls. Mademoiselle Dianne de Poitiers (Lola Bessis) tells the Widow about a couple men riding past on horse, wearing strange hats of a “bygone era.” This is, naturally, of interest. At the same time, I have a feeling Mrs. Appleyard is hoping to clue this all up as soon as possible to make sure nobody pries too hard into her past.
Sergeant Bumpher (Jonny Pasvolsky) is tracking down every lead. He discovers young Fitzhubert has been hiding a stocking belonging to one of the women. He’s also heard about Michael being sent to Australia for some reason, as if out of punishment by his well-to-do family. The younger lad is clearly troubled. But in what way?
At the college, Miss Dora Lumley (Yael Stone) gives a morbid, Gothic talk about Jesus’s body being put in the cave after his crucifixion. She relates it a bit to Hanging Rock, which doesn’t thrill the girls.
Jump back a bit. We see Irma’s first day at the school, also the first for little Sara (Inez Currõ). It was determined Sara would room with an older girl, and she was put with Miranda, beginning their close relationship. It’s also easy to see there was some kind of tension between Irma and Miranda, something mysterious. Did they know one another before? Miranda was subject to cruel punishments for her delinquent behaviours, ordered by the Widow and executed by fan of the Old Testament, Ms. Lumley. This brought her, Irma, and Marion together closely.
“All great rocks have their stories”
After seven days, Sgt. Bumpher officially calls off the search, presuming the girls dead. Everyone at the college is feeling differently, from the girls to the headmistress herself and the teachers. There’s something super creepy about Dora, whose penchant for slapping and whacking the girls is all too evident. Although they’ve all got secrets.
During a soiree, the Widow Appleyard finds plenty of gawking eyes from the high society crowd. Her only solace is Dr. Mackenzie, agreeing to keep an eye and ear out for her amongst the bourgeoisie. Back at the college, Edith continues going mad, having nightmares and visions that simply won’t quit. Simultaneously we find Dora creeping around in the things belonging to the missing girls and Ms. McCraw. She finds letters and pictures, even an old school dildo. Yes, there are many secrets!
Speaking of secrets, there are suggestions Michael was sent away because of a scandal involving another man. Could it have been a gay thing? There are definitely further suggestions, such as his chats with Albert (James Hoare). Michael runs into him during the soiree, out by the lake where Albert’s having a naked swim. He sees the other man’s tattoos, asking about them. They also talk of the recent day at Hanging Rock. Michael’s determined to go back and search.
Hester’s perpetually stuck with her personal ghosts. Such as the fact she was in on her husband Arthur’s death— better word is murder. So, we’re getting a bigger picture of why she’s fled to the Outback.
Up in the hills, Michael and Albert go looking for anything left behind. Michael finds strange animal bones at one point. He starts talking about that place being “timeless,” and he’s feeling drawn to the mountain, to whatever primitive connection there is between man and nature. But he’s also starting to go a bit mad, too.
He sends Albert off while he stays for the evening, continuing to look for any sign of the young women. He finds everything from a stocking to a snake’s shed skin, even some things more inexplicable. That night, he hears voices, strange noises, visions of other men around the fire. More suggestions of something vaguely homoerotic.
In the morning, Albert goes back out to find Michael. He does, and the younger lad isn’t well. He tells Albert: “She‘s here.” This puts Albert running back to look through Michael’s trail, discovering a pair of legs jutting out from a nearby cave.
Whoa. Honestly, I’ve read a bunch of reviews saying this adaptation of Picnic at Hanging Rock isn’t great, or that it’s nothing new. I’d have to disagree, and I’m only two episodes in so far. This brings new Gothic bits that weren’t necessarily all present in the film. Trust me, I’m a massive fan of the film, I don’t feel this series is going to overpower that. Doesn’t mean this isn’t an interesting adaptation! Get ready for more.