If there’s one thing Foxtel does well it’s Australian Drama, and their next foray into this space is a six-part adaptation of Joan Lindsay’s highly acclaimed novel, Picnic at Hanging Rock.
The infamous story begins with widow Hester Appleyard (Natalie Dormer, The Hunger Games and Game of Thrones) buying a property in Australia that will serve as Appleyard College, an elite finishing school. But not everything is as it seems at first glance with the delightfully frighting yet intriguing Mrs Appleyard telling the audience “people always believe their own eye … dress like a tart, you’re a tart; dress like a widow, you’re a widow.”
Right from the outset, we are told that on St Valentine’s Day 1900, three young women and their teacher vanished from a picnic at Hanging Rock. Those students are Miranda Reid (Lilly Sullivan Stan’s Romper Stomper), heiress Irma Leapold (Samara Weaving Home And Away), mixed-race Marion Quade (Madeleine Madden (Tomorrow when the War Began), and math/geography teacher Greta McCraw (Anna McGahan ANZAC Girls).
The series’ opening hour, penned by Beatrix Christian, sets up the central plot to be explored throughout the 6-hour series, with a more contemporary nature than expected, with the girls being more independent and strong-willed than one would imagine in a story set during the turn of the century. A prime example of this comes when Miranda defends herself from a ravenous solider in dramatic fashion. The dark tone of the script is also welcome as it’s clear that Appleyard is a very private person who wants to keeps her secrets well hidden
The casting is stellar with Natalie Dormer doing her best work here as Headmistress Appleyard who draws your attention from the very first scene, in which she has her back to the camera for the first 5 minutes while shrouded in black lace. Lilly Sullivan is engrossing and gives another magnificent performance, while the rest of the young cast also give great performances. With a ‘who’s who’ of seasoned performers like Yeal Stone, Lola Bessis and Syilva Budd, the cast isn’t short of talent.
From its opening moment, Picnic at Hanging Rock demands your attention with its stunning visual direction by Larysa Kondracki, who sets the tone of the series and allows the landscape to become a character.
There is nothing to fault with this production, which is a dark, character-driven mystery that is both intriguingly engrossing and the best TV show you will see this year. If you’re only planning on watching one new Australian drama this year, this is the one.
Picnic at Hanging Rock Premieres 8:30 pm Sunday on Showcase. The whole series will also be available on demand from launch.