Foxtel’s Picnic at Hanging Rock
Directed by Michael Rymer
Written by Beatrix Christian
* For a recap & review of Episode 5, click here.
Miranda (Lily Sullivan) and Sara (Inez Currõ) enjoyed freedom on their Christmas Holidays. They became closer, even more like sisters. They were surrounded by Miranda’s father (Richard Sutherland), her mother (Zoe Bertram), and all the brothers. We see how at odds Miranda was with her parents, though, when not out enjoying the wilderness.
Again, the theme of civilisation v. wilderness. Civilisation becomes more a cage. All those unknowns of the wilderness are like the knowledge held back by God from Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, hidden by society, particularly from girls and young women. The wilderness offered so much opportunity. Civilisation only meant Miranda had to “marry up.”
In the present, Mademoiselle Dianne (Lola Bessis) has taken Sara’s suitcase to Sgt. Bumpher (Jonny Pasvolsky), only the copper isn’t home. She sits and waits with Mrs. Bumpher (Kate Box). Elsewhere, Dora Lumley (Yael Stone) and Reg (Aaron Glenane) exist in their creepiness— she’s found his nasty pictures, he’s found the dildo, the “devil‘s crucifix,” she found in Ms. Greta’s (Anna McGahan) things. They’re one seriously messed up family. Dora’s also beginning to suspect awful things of her brother. This prompts an argument, ending in a fire that engulfs both Reg’s house and her dress. Jesus.
Looks like Hester Appleyard (Natalie Dormer) is readying herself to leave for good from the college she founded, that’s crumbling before her. She starts remembering the past, when she was trying to flee London the same way. She got her name from a soap company that was setup at the train station, crafting a new life as she went. This was the secret Miranda discovered earlier on before the picnic, seeing the soap tin the headmistress kept in her drawer.
The gardener, Mr. Whitehead (John Flaus), remembers telling Miranda and Marion (Madeleine Madden) about the grisly truth of Hanging Rock, how men were hung there and left for wild animals to feast on. He and his brother saw human ribs there once. He also finds something horrific in the flower garden outside: Sara’s cold corpse.
Bumpher’s found the Lumley tragedy, just two burned corpses. When he gets back he finds his wife and Dianne waiting. They further run into Jasper Cosgrove (Huw Higginson), who’s got no idea about what has been going at Appleyard College. Uh oh. Right at that moment, Hester’s leaving the college by carriage, and the coppers miss her by mere minutes. Bumpher’s led by the gardener to the little girl’s body.
Jump back. Hester confronted Sara up in the attic, asking where the missing young women went. Sara taunts of “a vow” the others made. Suggesting there was something else to their disappearance.
Hester goes to see none other than Tomasetti (Marcus Graham). She believes Arthur (Philip Quast) is behind everything going on at the college. Except her old pal tells her Arthur never made it. He did, indeed, die from infection after having to get his arm lopped off. He truly is a ghost haunting his widow. She thought she was running away from a man still living when in fact she was “free all this time.” Which means there’s a whole other slew of explanations for the missing girls Hester hasn’t really considered.
A flashback shows us Marion on Valentine’s Day, going to Greta with a card and love in her eyes. Only Ms. McCraw had to reject her, due to their difference in age, and her position as a teacher. This hurt Marion, obviously, believing it was because of the racial difference. Such a heartbreaking thing to see. Just more to add to the mystery of the young women disappearing. So many reasons to suggest it might’ve been a conscious effort. Or, so many red herrings.
We see more of the picnic. Miranda was scaling trees, no gloves, which alerted Greta to the terrible scars on her hands. She also made clear, subtly, to her teacher she knew about the semi-relationship between her and Marion. Marion, Miranda, Irma (Samara Weaving), and Edith (Ruby Rees) went walking in the hills together. Not without rich girl Irma making a “savage” comment in front of Marion. Not without them all dreaming of escape to some other world better than the one they knew. Up on the mountain, they looked down on all the others by the lake. Marion noticed somebody further off from the group, too— Greta. Nearby was also Michael Fitzhubert (Harrison Gilbertson) following. So many possibilities.
What we find is that the young women were going up Mount Diogenes to secure their vow, one they committed to out in the roses. A vow to their “secret selves.” They each cut their fingers on the rose thorns, binding their vow in blood and rose petals. And just as they’d lay together before, they laid down on top of Hanging Rock in a pile. It was there they were found by Michael, sleeping in each others arms, though he left them soon afterwards.
The young women – without Edith – got up from their slumber and walked off. They went to the highest part of the mountain. There, they undid their corsets and stood at the edge of the rocks. They tossed their corsets into the wind.
Hester goes up to Hanging Rock, searching for answers. And when she gets up there, she talks a walk off the edge, never knowing the answer to the mystery.
I absolutely loved the ending. There’s an ambiguity there that existed in the original film. Ultimately, though, Mrs. Appleyard feels responsible, and that’s why she took a jump for herself. Because, regardless of what happened, part of the why will always remain with her. The darkness of her past crept up on her and she was too busy worrying about that to see what was happening in her own school— where she was meant to be looking after all those girls and young women.
So, Picnic at Hanging Rock here stays ambiguous to a point, while giving us a fully rounded perspective on the Widow Appleyard. Great storytelling. This miniseries deserved better reviews than it’s gotten, so I hope more people will watch this soon.