Despite the fact that the series is a period piece, Amazon's Picnic at Hanging Rock series is somehow remarkably relevant, especially given its history. The upcoming Picnic, which takes place in 1900, is a reimagining of Joan Lindsay's classic 1967 Australian novel, which was also adapted into Peter Weir's 1975 film. However, viewers don't have to be familiar with its prior interpretations to appreciate the series, and showrunner Larysa Kondracki explains exactly why that is.
Kondracki (known for her work on Better Call Saul and The Americans) admits that she didn't want to go near the story when she was first presented with the opportunity — simply because she believes Weir's film is a classic. But after reading the script for this new adaptation, she was sold. The fictional story unravels after four young women of Appleyard College, led by ambiguous headmistress Hester (Natalie Dormer), mysteriously disappear from a picnic at Hanging Rock on Valentine's Day.
Off the bat, Kondracki saw an opportunity to make the show, premiering May 25, special. "[The movie] is famous for its male gaze and the girls disappear in 20 minutes or whatever and then there you go," she says. "This show really became about: Who are these girls? Why would they want to go in the first place? Not just what happened."
Amazon's retelling of the original story incorporates the female characters' points of view, which is what allows this period piece to feel so fresh. "They happen to be in period costumes, but... other than the corsets, it’s very much what we go through as women now," she explains. "How do you stay true to yourself? How do you have a voice? How do you become a strong woman with being tyrannical, without being an asshole, without being misunderstood, but sort of staying true to your instincts and who you are?" As she puts it, self-discovery is a theme that simply doesn't go away.
While the strong ensemble of female characters are on respective paths of self-realization, they influence the men around them. "These guys get inspired by these girls who are just like, ‘We’re gonna jump the creek ‘cause we feel like it,'" Kondracki says. And if they didn't think women could do those sorts of things, they'd get schooled. "Women don’t do that? It’s like, dude, you gotta get out more, we can jump a creek," the showrunner says.
While the complex, unsolved mystery impacts students and staff, the young women of Appleyard College explore some of their own curiosities, including romance. Kondracki, however, describes this exploration as sensuality verses sexuality, and really a lust for life, not just other people. She explains:
"There’s a beautiful kiss between two of the girls in episode three and what I’m so proud about it is — the kiss itself is lovely and sensual — but it’s so much more about acceptance. This one girl is just like, ‘Can you accept me for who I am?’ The emotional vulnerability and what we bring to relationships is something we manage to capture quite nicely. It’s more about sensuality than sexuality and what women really want, what young girls want, which is sometimes to just explore, sometimes to mess about, sometimes to be a total f*ckin' jerk. There’s a sloppiness to it and also a truth to it."
Kondracki also turns the table and showcases no female frontal nudity (the 1975 version certainly did), but does show male frontal nudity — something that is still strikingly rare in most Hollywood productions (female nudity is almost three times as likely to appear in a film as male nudity is, according to a 2016 study my Mount Saint Mary's University). "We rebalanced it in quite a new direction," she says, explaining a flashback scene when Hester has to move a heavy, elderly man's dead body. "She has to move a male corpse out of her way, dead male flesh, just to have the chance of freedom. I think that scene says a lot."
By combining pieces of the novel (the premise, Hester's epic speech, and freedom to play with the story's timeline); inspiration from other work she loves (Heathers, The Shining, and The Breakfast Club); and her fresh perspective, Kondracki found magic with Picnic.
While she says she's inspired by filmmakers like David Lynch and Michael Mann, she needed to put the spotlight on new faces for this melodramatic story. "Usually it’s Al Pacino or Robert DeNiro that get these big, muscular lenses. And I’m like, let’s put women in this fun, muscular show," she says. And hopefully, this group of rich, complex women will be clearly relatable to women everywhere. After all, it's like Kondracki said: there are certain aspects about being a strong-willed woman that are simply timeless.