In Amazon’s latest miniseries, a group of schoolgirls mysteriously go missing during their private school’s luncheon at a picturesque location called Hanging Rock. Picnic At Hanging Rock premieres on May 25 and shows how the events of Valentine’s Day, 1900 spark an investigation and have a ripple effect on their peers and the overall community. The story isn't based on real events, but Hanging Rock is a real place in Victoria, Australia and, according to the historic site’s official webpage, people can have their own picnics on the grounds to this day.
Per the same website, Hanging Rock is a volcanic formation about 44 miles outside of Melbourne, Australia’s second-largest city. It may sound like one giant rock, but years of rough weather patterns and signification erosion have led to rocks protruding in a bunch of clusters. Hanging Rock, also known as Mount Diogenes, is a popular tourist attraction that's home to concerts, horse races, and camping space. Its popularity rose when the Picnic At Hanging Rock novel was released in 1967, followed by the internationally acclaimed 1975 movie of the same name. The new miniseries is another adaptation of the source material.
Picnic At Hanging Rock’s influence is so great that a February 2018 flash mob celebration took place to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the book. According to The Daily Mail, 900 people came out to recreate choreography from scenes of the film and honor the central characters.
The 2018 re-adaptation first debuted on Australian network Foxtel in early May. Amazon Video picked up the rights to the dark story of the Hanging Rock girls, which stars Australian actor Lily Sullivan as Miranda Reid alongside Madeleine Madden and Samara Weaving as fellow missing schoolgirls Marion and Irma. Game Of Thrones alum Natalie Dormer plays the school’s strange and stringent headmistress, Mrs. Hester Appleyard.
In an interview with Variety, Dormer said that Appleyard’s strict persona is damages her charges by “passing on archaic structures that stifle those girls’ spirits” and doing more harm than good. Behind the character’s stern personality, howedver, is a broken woman with a dark, secretive past — an extra layer that attracted Dormer to the role. Dormer received a written request by showrunner/director Larysa Kondracki to portray Appleyard because the director thought she could bring a sense of humanity to the disciplinarian.
Dormer also told Variety that the personal struggles of the Hanging Rock women and girls are still relevant in 2018. “It’s scary how 1900 and 2018, those themes of female independence — emotionally, spiritually, financially — finding a sense of identity, not needing a man, not being defined by what your peer group suggests you should be, peer culture, authority rebellion, spirit and voice within those constructs [are similar],” she said.
The production certainly reached back into Australia's history. According to Escape, the 2018 miniseries didn't film the fateful picnic right at the real Hanging Rock, but nearby, at Sanatoriam Lake — "a small, secluded lake surrounded by lush ferns and tall eucalypts." The production features several other landmarks and sites that Australian viewers will no doubt recognize, including Lysterfield Park, which is apparently a great location for kangaroo-spotting. Werribee Mansion, which served as the exterior and grounds of the school, is a hotel and spa surrounded by various outdoor elements, such as a zoo and winery.
Are the girls who disappeared at Hanging Rock really missing? Or was it all a plan to escape the stifling environment at their private school? Whatever conclusion the series offers viewers, at least they can watch the mystery play out knowing that if they ever make it down under, they can visit the spot that inspired this enduring classic.