Picnic at Hanging Rock – Episode 2-6
Starring: Natalie Dormer, Lilly Sullivan, Samara Weaving, Madeleine Madden, Inez Currõ, Harrison Gilbertson
Director: Larysa Kondracki
Writers: Beatrix Christian
Reviewed by Sidney Morgan
This review CONTAINS MINOR SPOILERS.
In the first episode, Larysa Kondracki introduced us to a beautifully painted world. Appleyard College, that haven for broken souls, seemed so far removed from reality. It exists on a tableau, to be admired. But in that beauty, in that dream-like state, something horrible happens. While at a picnic at the mystical Hanging Rock, as the girls’ movements slow down, the dark greens and pure whites begin to blur and time freezes, a few of the girls, including one teacher, disappear without a trace.
The rest of the series runs with two interrelated storylines. The first and obvious is the ongoing investigation into the girls’ disappearance. As the police try to uncover what happened to them, as well as the viewers, the episodes are interspersed with flashbacks of events leading up to the day of the picnic. Piecing together the information, it’s clear the girls weren’t happy, and not only because of events that take place at the school. The roots of their unhappiness predate that time. And as their graduation day approaches, possibilities to elude the shackles of their futures present themselves. Which one they choose, or whether they even choose any is up for interpretation. It’s also part of the show’s mystery.
Miranda (Lily Sullivan), Irma (Samara Weaving), and Marion (Madeleine Madden) seemed destined to meet at the college. Their lives take meaning as they spend more and more time together, creating a bond that transcends their physical selves. That they are three isn’t an accident, just like Shakespeare’s three witches in Macbeth, or the three in Witches of Eastwick. Together they provide one another emotional support, linked by their unhappiness and longing for something more than being a trophy wife. And while there is no clear indication in the story that these girls are dabbling in witchcraft. The surreal quality of the show does open the door to some supernatural possibilities.
Concurrently, the second storyline revolves around Mrs. Appleyard (Natalie Dormer) and her shady past. Claiming to come from high society in England (this story takes place in Australia), her true origin is known to some of the girls, who use it to their advantage. Hester’s past is as tragic as some of the girls’. She’s haunted by them as well, eroding her grasp on reality as the show progresses. Despite her crumbling life, she’s determined to find out what happened to her girls. However, as explanations begin to eliminate the simpler theories, she’s left baffled by what it may mean.
Episode after episode, the show continues to be an absolute pleasure to watch. The colors, the imagery, the visual feast on the screen are reasons enough to watch the show. The sets, the wardrobe, the weather, the environment, they’re incredibly well done, chosen and look gorgeous. Additionally, the actors, led by Natalie Dormer, Lily Sullivan, Lola Bessis, Samara Weaving and Madeleine Madden give great and haunting performances. It’s sad to see these young women shackled and tormented by the social mores of the time, which is brilliantly conveyed via the actors’ behaviours.
Though the narrative arc for the season is the mystery surrounding the girls’ disappearance, that only serves as a canvas for the deeper meaning. Picnic at Hanging Rock is really about the struggles these girls faced at the turn of the century. As they’re imprisoned by expectations and predetermined destinies.
They desperately want the right to map out their own journeys but are unable to do so. This leads to the conflict that ultimately draws out the path they take. It underlies the lives of all the women at the college, from the instructors to Mrs. Appleyard herself. They seek solace and safety from their past. The college that is partly isolated from the world offers, for a time. Sadly, partly isn’t completely, as the college doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Inevitably, reality catches up to our main characters. It shakes them from their comfort, forcing them all to face their past.
Ultimately, the tragedy of the story is that in order to truly escape and be free, these events had to happen. By creating a beautiful show, it compounds the feelings felt and taints our interpretations of the events. Though it may have been short-lived (or ongoing, depending on your perspective), it’s nearly impossible to fault the girls’ actions and motives.
Picnic at Hanging Rock is a great show. The visual spectacle, the actors, the story, these will not disappoint. A story told at a time when women were trapped in society imposed moulds, this questioning, this fighting for individuality and freedom seems à propos today. But a word of warning. This isn’t a traditional mystery. Just like looking at a painting, wondering about its meaning, yet only able to project your own biased interpretation. You will come to your own conclusions after the show is done. And like in Inception, you’ll have evidence to support your conclusion.