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Prepare yourself for a slightly saucy reboot of Australian classic Picnic at Hanging Rock

PUBLISHED: 11:46 29 June 2018 | UPDATED: 11:46 29 June 2018

Picnic at Hanging Rock (C) Amazon

Picnic at Hanging Rock (C) Amazon

Amazon

The lost daughters of Picnic at Hanging Rock have returned to haunt us once again as a new Amazon Prime adapation is shown on BBC2. Will to be able to mirror the brilliance of the 1975 Peter Weir film?

Natalie Dormer is Hester Appleyard in Picnic at Hanging Rock (C) AmazonNatalie Dormer is Hester Appleyard in Picnic at Hanging Rock (C) Amazon

I remember being absolutely terrified of Picnic at Hanging Rock, Peter Weir’s adaptation of Joan Lindsay’s 1967 novel about the disappearance of two schoolgirls and their teacher from a 1900 Valentine’s Day picnic.

We watched the film at home on our rubbish Betamax video recorder (EVERYONE else had VHS) and I recall being chilled to the bone: every other mystery I’d seen had reached some kind of conclusion, this left the viewer hanging, like the rock. As a child, I watched the film and saw only the horror of the disappearance – all the clever nuances, the repressed sexual tension, the effect of repression, the hysteria, the dark possibilities were lost on me until my second viewing.

I can still see those girls, walking out of sight, never to be seen again. What did happen? Where did the girls at Hanging Rock go? Did that splendid geological outcropping simply swallow them?

A new six-part adaptation from Amazon is about to be shown on terrestrial TV and those old questions are set to surface once again as viewers are taken back to the former volcano and back to the mystery of the girls who vanished into thin air. I can’t wait.

Game of Thrones’ Natalie Dormer play Appleyard College headmistress Hester Appleyard and we are offered an expanded back story which sheds new light – if light is the word – on the story. Lily Sullivan takes the role of Miranda, the leader of the three girls, while Rothschild heiress Irma is played by Samara Weaving and Marion, the illegitimate daughter of a judge, is played by Madeleine Madden. The girls are best friends in that awful way that young women of that age are, frenemies, as they call it, a group who bask in the attention they receive from younger girls and who rule the school in a somewhat dislikeable way.

This new series will begin with the picnic and then following episodes will spin away from it to offer us clues as to what might have happened to the missing women. From the first episode it looks visually stunning – dreamy and ethereal like the film but with a slightly steam-punkier edge - it’s been described as cross between A Room with a View, Mean Girls and The Shining: which is about as enticing as it gets.

While we wait for the BBC2 premiere, I’ve gone searching for a few facts about Picnic at Hanging Rock, from the book, its author and the new series.

• Author Joan Lindsay wrote the plot to the book following a dream she had during a storm. Subsequent chapters also arrived in dream form.

• She was fascinated by an 1875 painting of Hanging Rock by William Ford and had taken a picnic there herself in 1963 “of cold duck and a bottle of wine”.

• Valentine’s Day was Lindsay’s favourite day of the year: she married her husband Daryl on February 14 1922.

• When the premiere of the film adaptation of Picnic at Hanging Rock was screened in Melbourne’s State Theatre in 1975, the theatre clock mysteriously stopped at 12. Lindsay often reported that clocks stopped in her presence and when the film was made, the set wasn’t immune: co-producer Patricia Lovell said: “All our watches seemed to be playing up Mine stopped at 6pm on the rock…to ask the time became quite a joke.”

• Fashion designers Alexander McQueen and Raf Simons of Dior cited Picnic at Hanging Rock as inspiration for their collections. The dresses in the film were soaked in tea to soften their whiteness.

• The final two lines of Lindsay’s original foreword to her book read: “For the author, who knew Mount Macedon and the Hanging Rock very well, as a child, the story is entirely true.”

• A former student of the school which the book is based on told Linday’s biographer that “we all knew about the girls who disappeared, but none of us really knew the details.”

• Earlier this year, the book’s 50th anniversary was celebrated with – what else? – a picnic at Hanging Rock. Thousands of fans dressed as Miranda held a dance flash mob in honour of the story.

• When the new series was being filmed at Hanging Rock in Victoria, the national park – where there is a museum about the famous novel - was still open to the public. Members of the public were somewhat perturbed to see the cast in distinctive white dresses, wandering through rock crevices.

• A posthumously published ‘final chapter’ by Lindsay offered a frankly bonkers suggestion as to what had happened to the girls and their teacher which involved time warps and magical transformations into crabs. No, really. Perhaps the girls are in Cromer now.

* Picnic at Hanging Rock starts on July 11, BBC2 at 9.05pm.

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