Jed and I had both wondered how this new version of Picnic at Hanging Rock could take a two hour story and turn it into six, but the answer to that question becomes clear relatively early on in this first episode, beginning as it does with an unnecessarily long and detailed sequence about the purchase of the school building, adding a clunky “mysterious” backstory and stupendously annoying voiceover for Mrs Appleyard, and generally proceeding at such a glacial pace that my fingers were already itching for the remote control a quarter of an hour in.
Although everything looks lush and beautiful – the scenery in particular is stunning and our friend Snoskred’s beloved Werribee Mansion looks very grand – and there is some clever, interesting use of colour and filters in the cinematography, unfortunately the actual style of storytelling is significantly less impressive: there is no subtlety at all about the writing, the characterisation or the intrusive, obvious music which soundtracks each mood or moment. It all feels far too self-conscious, determined to impress the viewer with how meaningful and significant every moment is, but if everything is meaningful and significant, then nothing is – it reminded me of what I call “the ITV style” where everything is telegraphed with the televisual equivalent of a giant “DO YOU SEE?!” sign and nothing is left to the audience to work out or feel for themselves.
Things do improve exponentially in the last ten minutes or so when the main event starts: watches stop, most of the schoolgirls suddenly and instantaneously lie down and sleep mid-picnic, and the three girls who don’t are immediately and irresistibly drawn to the Rock, with the shift in their priorities and even the look in their eyes nicely, creepily apparent to the viewer if not to their teacher or the fourth student who tags along. All that is terrific and there’s a genuinely terrifying moment when the girls see REDACTED on the Rock above them that I won’t forget soon. Unfortunately, though, even this crucial section of the episode – the last time anyone sees some of these girls alive and the crux of the entire mystery – is undercut by a long and silly dream sequence for Mrs Appleyard which I’m sure is meant to be very important but is really not to me. I think Natalie Dormer is a superb actress and she’s the main reason I was watching in the first place, but I just don’t care about this Mrs Appleyard or what she’s running from unless it/he also happens to be up there on Mount Diogenes with Miranda, Irma and co.
Will I watch again? Maybe, I don’t know. Another five hours of this adaptation doesn’t seem like something my viewing schedule or my life is missing, gorgeous scenery or not. Either way, though, I don’t think I’ll be writing any more reviews of it so, if you’re watching, any comments on the rest of the series are welcome on this thread.