Thursday, May 31, 2018

Pilot Review: Picnic at Hanging Rock

Picnic at Hanging Rock (Amazon)
Premiered May 25

Amazon’s latest acquisition is this Australian series based on the same 1967 book that was adapted into a 1975 film by Peter Weir. This is a period drama that sticks out completely for the way in which it presents its characters, sort of like an antique version of “Mean Girls” with a bit of mystery and devastation mixed in. It’s more reminiscent of “Marie Antoinette,” Sofia Coppola’s take on the infamous queen that purposefully included more than a few anachronisms and modern music to make its events feel all the more lively. This reviewer wasn’t terribly fond of that film, but fortunately this show, hardly one of a genre that appeals, does a considerably better job at being just what it wants to be. There’s obviously the central plot of these four girls that go missing, an event that was presented in stark dramatic fashion with the most ominous foreshadowing. What’s most worthwhile, however, is the central performance from Natalie Dormer. She’s well-known to most for her role as Margaery Tyrell on “Game of Thrones,” and I was also impressed by her turn in the first season of “Elementary.” Here, she’s a tyrannical and unforgiving headmistress, practicing no-nonsense negotiation in the procurement of her property and also in the treatment of those around her. She seems to have her fair share of secrets that haunt her and also make her even more determined to stay on top. If this was the kind of fare that intrigued me, I might well stick around after this start.

How will it work as a series? Six episodes should be an appropriate amount of time to uncover everything that led to this disappearance and the role of Mrs. Appleyard and everyone else in it. There’s a lot to be exposed and covered, and this show knows just how it wants to tell its story.
How long will it last? All six episodes premiered on Showcase a few weeks ago in Australia, and now they’re all available on Amazon. Reviews seem to be mostly positive, and it’s hard to find any ratings data either for Australia or for Amazon, suggesting that this may well be just the limited six-episode series it was supposed to be or could also end up being recommissioned for another run if there’s more of a story to tell.

Pilot grade: B