ORBzine - Picnic At Hanging Rock (2018) TV Review

Picnic At Hanging Rock (2018)

Picnic At Hanging Rock (2018) Picnic At Hanging Rock (2018) [Season 1, Episode 1]
Shown 11th July 2018 [Wednesday]

This is a rehash of the 1976 film by Peter Weir, itself an adaptation of an original novel from 1969. The title card at the very start gives away the premise, for anyone who has not heard it in the previous fifty years.

The main change seems to be that in order to pad the main storyline out, a lot of backstory has been added to the characters. The story starts in the late 1800s, when Mrs. Appleyard ( Natalie Dormer ) buys a remote mansion house in Victoria Province, Australia. She purports to be a widow, but is running from something or someone. This additional backstory makes her the central character to the series.

A few years later it is the year 1900, and she has converted her mansion into a boarding school for teenage girls. Well, most of them are twenty-something actresses who excel at playing girls ten years younger. We get some backstory for them as well.

Finally, the girls get a day-trip to Mount Diogenes - AKA Hanging Rock. And as we all know, some of them do not make it back. The mystery is set, and now we must wait for everything to unfold.

The Peter Weir movie had an incredible atmosphere, and was brought alive by impressive photography. Unfortunately that is where this effort is most lacking, and it suffers in the comparison.

Picnic At Hanging Rock (2018) Picnic At Hanging Rock (2018) [Season 1, Episode 2]
Shown 18th July 2018 [Wednesday]

The local constabulary spend the next few days after the disappearances interviewing all the witnesses. They send search parties up Mount Diogenes, but they find nothing.

Things get somewhat disturbing at the girls' school. The teenage girls are probably the creepiest thing about this show.

We get a flashback that reveals more of the backstory of Mrs. Appleyard ( Natalie Dormer ). Not only was she originally Hester the Harlot, but her husband-pimp murdered one of her customers.

Finally, the young aristocractic boy decides to go back to Mount Diogenes. Will he succeed where the constabulary faled

Picnic At Hanging Rock (2018) Picnic At Hanging Rock (2018) [Season 1, Episode 3]
Shown 25th July 2018 [Wednesday]

One of the girls, Irma, has been found. She was missing for nine days, but shows no signs on starvation or dehydration. Since she has no memory of what happened, her flashbacks are to the time before the disappearances. She and the other missing girls had a homo-erotic slumber party.

The young Englishman who found Irma is expected to propose to her. She is keen enough on such an arranged marriage, because being a wife is a good career for a young woman. However, the young man is a bit more nervous.

The bossy staff woman starts snooping around. She discovers evidence that the missing teacher was a closet lesbian, something that was treated as a crime in that era. When she shares the proof with her brother, he tells her What's mine is mine, what's yours is ours. Yes, this is a typical piece of modern gender politics - vilify men and the so-called Patriarchy by invoking mention of a Victorian era property ownership law.

Mrs. Appleyard ( Natalie Dormer ) reminds the constable that the English rule the world. This is deliberately phrased to alienate everyone else in the British Empire - the dominions (Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, canada) and homelands (Ireland, Scotland, Wales). Yes, deliberate Republican propaganda.

Picnic At Hanging Rock (2018) Picnic At Hanging Rock (2018) [Season 1, Episode 4]
Shown 1st Aug 2018 [Wednesday]

Things have still not settled down at the girls' school. The headmistress is paranoid about her past catching up with her. Hence the revolver concealed in her desk drawer. Unfortunately a detective from Scotland Yard has been sent to help search. Worse, her own Underworld contacts are after her.

The creepy little girl is obsessed with her missing friends, and tries to drive the headmistress crazy. She also faces off against the soldier who got injured in the first episode, who drops by uninvited. Yes, of all the horrors in the show the worst by far is the creepy little girl.

The young Englishman is back from the trip he took in the previous episode, when he humiliatingly dumped his prospective fiance by letter - the Victorian era equivalent of a text message. His excuse then was that he preferred her more-attractive friend. Now he flirts with homosexuality, or at least with his horse-groom Albert.

Albert has more important things to worry about. He has a younger sister, who was put in an orphanage and is now fostered out to a rich Englishman. Albert's intention now is to locate and retrieve his sister.

By incredible coincidence, the creepy little girl in the school also has a brother. In the 1970s movie, this was treated as coincidence - a thematic echo. Here it is now a major plot point for the episode, although it is completely ridiculous that brother and sister should never see or recognise each other.

Picnic At Hanging Rock (2018) Picnic At Hanging Rock (2018) [Season 1, Episode 5]
Shown 8th Aug 2018 [Wednesday]

This episode starts from the perspective of the French teacher, Mademoiselle Dianne de Poitiers ( Lola Bessis ). Her flashbacks are of the day the girls went missing, when Mademoiselle fell asleep at the picnic and her watch froze at noon.

The creepy little girl, Sarah, has gone missing. Mrs. Appleyard ( Natalie Dormer ) claims she was collected by her guardian. However, Mademoiselle is suspicious. Is there a coverup - and if so, why?

At the midpoint we switch to Mrs. Appleyard's perspective. She is haunted by flashbacks of her own, to the time she was purchased from an orphanage and set to work in a music-hall. This gives the story a very uneven tone. Should we empathise with Appleyard, or be suspicious of her?

The Constable goes to Melbourne, where Sarah has supposedly gone to take the ship home. He evidently cannot find her, because Appleyard's story is mis-leading. Instead he re-interviews Irma, the girl who was found.

Picnic At Hanging Rock (2018) Picnic At Hanging Rock (2018) [Season 1, Episode 6]
Shown 13th Aug 2018 [Wednesday]

This is the final episode, and the final chance for this effort to prove itself against the original movie. It ties up a few subplots, but these were basically padding that was added to stretch the story out for more episodes.

Once the subplots are sorted out, we return to the main storyline. Mrs. Appleyard ( Natalie Dormer ) goes to Hanging Rock, where she retraces the girls' steps. This is intercut with flashbacks to the girls' trek on the day they disappeared.

The 1976 movie adaptation of the book is infamous for not including a resolution to the mystery. This was not a stylistic choice by the film-makers, but rather by the original novelist Joan Lindsay who decreed that the conclusion should not be published until after her death. Since a sequel novel, including the mystery's resolution, was published in 1981 this means this TV show's makers had the opportunity to actually include it here. So, did they try to set themselves apart from the original adaptation or did they mimic the uncathartic mystery ending in a way that would make this just another unsatisfying remake of a far superior original?





Picnic At Hanging Rock (2018)

Picnic At Hanging Rock (2018) Picnic At Hanging Rock (2018) [Season 1 , Episode 1 ]
Shown th July 2018 [Wednesday]

Reviewed in our special supplement Picnic At Hanging Rock (2018)

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