Picnic at Hanging Rock (2018)
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Given the unique appeal of the original novel and movie, one has to ask why Amazon bothered to adapt the story in such an unsubtle, bastardised form. the guileless girls are now worldly little madams, their sexuality more explicitly rendered, and everyone HAS to have a secret past.
Rachel Roberts was so effective as the monstrous Headmistress precisely because the reasons for her cruelty and bitterness were not explored: they are an incidental detail in a much larger drama. Here Natalie Dormer - a fine actress who deserves better - has hidden motives and a shady past which I fear will become a driving force in the narrative. And, of course, in keeping with the sledge-hammer subtlety of the show, she too is over-sexualised. Similarly Miranda, the 'Botticelli Angel' in the original is a cypher - all things to all people, and an idealised object of inexplicable fascination to all. Here the writers lazy spoon-feeding of salacious detail to keep audiences interested (because clearly we won't stay watching otherwise) shas her as a tomboy and a troublemaker, running off into the woods and pi***ing in a bowl to tick-off her prissy Bible Studies teacher, and the subject of an attempted rape...all within the first half hour.
I've heard arguments that these major conceptual changes are intended to give the key female characters emotional and psychological depth. Really? Then why is their interpretation so firmly hooked on their sexual representation? Lazy and cynical.
Unsubtle. Obvious. A shoddy and cynical appropriation of a classic story by people who clearly did not understand what made that story so enduring and effective.
That said, it is beautifully shot. Though the cinematography lacks the ethereal quality of the '70s movie, it all looks quite splendid. Pity about everything else.
I'm not a film student, but in almost every new scene the camera would do this tilt shot thing (not sure on the technical name) and it became annoying.
The music took any suspense away from the story. If I had to stop being negative, I'd comment on the strong acting by almost every female cast member. For whatever reason the male acting wasn't great.
Other than that, without having seen the original version or reading the novel, I can say that this is a show worth watching, and I didn't regret it. I really liked nearly all of the female central characters, and thought they did superb acting jobs. I also thought the character development was pretty good, although it could have been a little better in regards to Sara, whose character was one of the best.
I really liked the theme of the show in regards to true freedom, and the idea that some birds just weren't meant to be caged.
On a side note, it's sad but interesting that Amazon won't allow anyone to review the show on their website as of 6/9/2018 due to negative reviews. What a shame.
I watched the first episode & apart from finding it very difficult to follow, I was left with a feeling of something being not quite right.
After a while I figured out what it was. This series has a disturbingly racist undertone. What, I asked myself, was an Aboriginal girl doing as a pupil in an exclusive girl's boarding school in early 20th Century Australia? In reality, her presence as a pupil at that time & in that place would never have happened. So, exactly what are the makers of this television series, set in an historical time for which we have plenty of documentation, attempting to achieve by shoehorning an Indigenous character into a position they would never have held? Are they attempting to re-write Australian history by making it as they wished it to be? Are they just plain ignorant & for some reason unable to read a book or consult with an Aboriginal historian to obtain a factual & much more interesting storyline? Probably "yes" to both questions.
My sense of disquiet arises from this cak-handed attempt to be "inclusive", which in actuality, is racist to its core. By dumping an Indigenous character into a completely unlikely situation (i.e. the daughter of the Anglo-European elite of the British Colonies in Australia) these unimaginative pen-pushers have effectively negated the dire effects of colonisation on the Aboriginal inhabitants of this continent. They have, in a few thoughtless & blithe sentences, written out of history all the pain, the dispossession, the disease, the rape, the gargantuan effort to survive under Colonial rule, encountered by our original inhabitants. I am genuinely disgusted. I would recommend that any of the writers / producers familiarize themselves with the notion of "presentism" prior to taking up their keyboards again & tapping out another "historical" script.
In an age where the Australian screen industry is struggling to stay alive, Foxtel's 'Picnic at Hanging Rock' stands as proof of the talent we have in Australia and the rich stories we have and should be telling worldwide. 'Picnic at Hanging Rock' is certainly not a remake of Weir's 1975 classic, but rather, a look at Lindsay's classic story from a new perspective, for a new audience. 'Picnic at Hanging Rock' is nothing but a triumph for Australian television. Bravo!
Casting? Mrs. Appleyard is too malevolent and Miranda is hardly a "Botticelli angel". I won't deny that a credible remake could be done - this just isn't it.
This series owes more to Peaker Blinders and the recent TV version of Psycho - Bates Motel.
A shame really since a lot of money has been ploughed into this series, but it falls flat on its face in so many areas from writing to acting ro costumes to music.
The acting and filming locations were good. The sceeen play left a lot to desire. There were frequent flashbacks for most of the characters. Most flashback scenes were hard to tie to the main plot and so frequent, it was hard to differentiate which scene was a flashback or a scene in the current time period. The flashbacks seemed to be an attempt at injecting supernatural aspects into the plot, but I think this failed.
The ending was anticlimactic and left a lot of unanswered questions.
The added backstories to the various characters is obvious padding and distracts from the central mystery that gets sidelined by a bunch of soap opera hogwash about runaway wives, separated siblings, and vaguely gay and lesbian leanings. None of this claptrap has anything to do with the disappearances.
Natalie Dormer is miscast in the central role of of headmistress (Rachel Roberts starred in the original), and she plays the part much too broadly. We don't need to know all the particulars; all we need to know is that she is stern and mysterious. The only acting standout in the cast is James Hoare as Albert, and he is only tangentially connected to the mystery.
Then there's the modern PC casting of the half-black student enrolled in a white girls' finishing school in the Victorian Australian Outback in 1900. Ya right! A total of 3 directors worked on the 6 episodes, with at least two writers working on separate episodes. That's just a clue as to why this mess is so disjointed and lacking in any unified vision whatsoever.
This is not a remake of the classic story, or even the well known Peter Weir film, it is its own reimagining for a new audience, that fills in the gaps enough to be new, but maintains its own signature ending.
The eponymous picnic, and the disappearance of the three girls, happens in the first episode. Spoiler: the mystery is never really resolved. The fruitless search is also over quite quickly; the remaining episodes unravel the characters' lives, revealing who they were and who they wanted to be, and the societal forces arrayed against them. Flashbacks and fever-dreams recur throughout, as time seems to stand still and reality grows increasingly fluid. The ambiguity is very Australian, and very startling to my American sensibilities: the ancient landscape and the Victorian colonists may exist side by side, but they are worlds apart, and the series' writers and directors make us feel that sense of displacement and uncertainty.
Natalie Dormer stars as Mrs Appleyard, the headmistress of the girls' school, and while it may have been enough for her to be merely cruel and mysterious, instead she is surprisingly complex and nuanced: strict, frequently abusive, but occasionally sympathetic. Her relationship with an orphaned girl is layered and fascinating, as she sees in the girl a reflection of her own childhood, and uses her harsh discipline to try to correct for her own past mistakes.
Few answers are provided, either to the central mystery or to the characters' motivations. The people, like the story, defy conventional explanations. That approach is almost as bold as the lurid pink on the poster. We expect heroes and villains from our entertainment, or at least logic and clarity; Picnic at Hanging Rock offers us contradictions and questions instead.
In keen, excited anticipation of this series, I watched the 'making of' documentary and was actually astounded at some rather snide remarks made by senior members of the crew of this 2018 production, both towards Peter Weir's film and even Joan Lindsay's novel. From comments such as 'No-one wants a stuffy old Victorian piece' to 'Miranda only had 2 lines in the original film', to the costume designer not even getting the series title correct... it did not leave me with a good impression of the team behind the 2018 production. That is where this series went wrong to start with. From watching the making of doco, I also noticed, as many others have, that there are many obvious and at times offensive historical inaccuracies (such as placing an Indigenous girl in the college... completely ignoring/writing out of history the factual truth of suffering and genocide of Australia's Indigenous peoples). Despite these factors, I pressed on determined to embrace this series, curious as to how they will venture to interpret this fascinating tale...
I watched the first 2 episodes 3 times each, both in order to give it a good chance to grow on me, also because the storylines are at times so all over the place and the dialogue quite weakly abstract, it is simply difficult to follow at times, but lacking true intrigue and any genuine mystery. At times, when attempting to be at it's most mysterious, the special effects featured are somewhat reminiscent of some kind of fantasy children's show such as Round The Twist. From gold dust randomly floating in the air, to an unexplained display of dancing spins by Miss Leopold, to an ultra blurry soft lens effect that looks like it was done on "Orton" effect on PicMonkey. For me the worst part of all... the um... soundtrack? Ambient, fast paced electronic music, sounds like something that would be playing in a trendy cafe in South Yarra, in the mid 2000s. There is not a hint of intrigue in the score and rather than adding to the series, it takes credibility away from it. One last thought on the score is... when St Valentines day roles around in episode 1 and we get some enthused random girl yelling out "HAPPY ST VALENTINES!", we are treated to hearing some electric guitar being played in the transition. Electric Guitar... in 1900? Really?
Pros: Effortful acting from Lily Sullivan, Samara Weaving, Madeleine Madden and Natalie Dormer. Alot of effort has obviously gone into set design for the interior shots. More focus on the Rothschild ancestory of Irma, Edith's escape from the rock is quite a gripping if not short lived moment, Miranda's portrayal is - although very different to the film, quite sweet and intriguing (yet she is not focused on much, after episode 2), my last pro is that hopefully this series will introduce a new generation to the 1975 film and the novel.
Cons: Hanging Rock itself is barely featured! Alot of this is not filmed on location at the rock apart from very few shots here and there (mostly just of the boys searching after the disappearance), most Picnic shots are filmed in lush greenery unlike the dryer, forboding landscapes of Hanging Rock reserve. The screenplay is in my opinion weak and un-atmospheric. There is overt and tasteless imagery at times with no regard for necessary creative subtleties, huge and unforgiveable historical inaccuracies, well made but over exaggerated costumery, biased political themes throughout, experimental, abstract cinematography.
Will perhaps appeal to anyone unfamiliar with the novel or the Edwardian era. A let down indeed.
However, I wanted to see this Australian TV version just to see how it might work. I am not disappointed! This TV adaptation explores more themes and clearly has the third or fourth wave of feminism propelling it. If for now other reason, you should watch this film to see how wonderful the women are to challenge the patriarchy of 1900 as well as the elements that have survived to today.
Cinematography and directing are breathtaking. Acting is wonderful, tho' some of the younger students chew a little scenery. The writers did an unimaginable job. Binge wat h it twice to relish this marvelous film......then treat yourself to Weir's 1975 version for dessert! You will enjoy the time you have devoted to a great "picnic."