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First review: Picnic at Hanging Rock

Ruby Rees (Edith Horton), Lily Sullivan (Miranda Reid), Madeleine Madden (Marion Quade) and Yael Stone (Dora Lumley) from Picnic at Hanging Rock. Picture: Jason Edwards
Ruby Rees (Edith Horton), Lily Sullivan (Miranda Reid), Madeleine Madden (Marion Quade) and Yael Stone (Dora Lumley) from Picnic at Hanging Rock. Picture: Jason Edwards

FROM the dazzling, colour-saturated first frame of Foxtel's ambitious reimagining of Picnic At Hanging Rock, this original, world-class production is quite literally, gold.

Game Of Thrones star Natalie Dormer - shrouded in black lace and with her back to camera for the first, tantalising six minutes of the opening episode - casts an almost instantaneous spell on the viewer as mysterious 'widow' Hester Appleyard.

Arriving in a bush town, in the market to buy a long-abandoned mansion, her appearance is polished, but of course, all is not what it seems.

In a harsh-as-glass London accent, she hints at the trick about to be played on those around her, telling the audience: "people always believe their own eye … dress like a tart, you're a tart; dress like a widow, you're a widow."

The cast of Picnic at Hanging Rock at today’s launch. Picture: Jason Edwards
The cast of Picnic at Hanging Rock at today’s launch. Picture: Jason Edwards

So begins the intrigue around Appleyard College, the strict and secretive all-girls school she opens in the sandstone manse.

As harsh Australian light pours through a stain-glass window at the top of the grand home's sweeping staircase, Dormer is haloed in yellow - with the cinematic effect just blindingly brilliant.

With the creative team and some cast including Yael Stone, Sibylla Budd and breakout new talent, Lily Sullivan sitting front row, the first sneak peak of this Fremantle co-production had invited media in stunned silence throughout the hour-long screening and in rapturous applause by its end.

Natalie Dormer in a scene from Picnic at Hanging Rock, to screen on Foxtel in May. Picture: Supplied
Natalie Dormer in a scene from Picnic at Hanging Rock, to screen on Foxtel in May. Picture: Supplied

For those not familiar with the acclaimed Joan Lindsay book, or its 1975 film adaptation by Peter Weir, it tells the intriguing tale - almost mythological - of three school girls and their governess who go missing on a picnic … at Hanging Rock.

Such is the aura surrounding this famed landscape - filmed around Victoria's stunning Macedon Ranges - it should share the starring role credit with Dormer.

A scene from the ‘dazzling’ new Aussie-made drama, Picnic At Hanging Rock. Picture: Supplied
A scene from the ‘dazzling’ new Aussie-made drama, Picnic At Hanging Rock. Picture: Supplied

And just as the Weir movie was groundbreaking for the local film industry in its day, this remarkable six-part TV drama takes extraordinary risks - from experimental camera angles and a soaring soundtrack, to costumes and cinematic styling that, at times, takes the viewer down the rabbit hole, Alice In Wonderland style.

The multimillion-dollar investment in this series - already sold for screening in the UK, US and Europe - delivers on all of its promise, and will undoubtably captivate the boutique audiences of next week's Berlin Film Festival, where it will headline the TV program.

Natalie Dormer. Picture: Supplied
Natalie Dormer. Picture: Supplied

And what a showcase it will be of the excellence our local industry is capable of producing; sitting in the sweet spot of wildly successful dramas of today - echoing the same themes of feminism and repression in A Handmaid's Tale; or psychological thrillers like Secret Cit y, The Kettering Incident or The Sinner.

While the world has already embraced Stone (in Orange As The New Black), and Samara Weaving (in the Oscar-nominated film, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri), make no mistake Hollywood will come calling for Sullivan (as schoolgirl Miranda Reid) and her co-star Madeleine Madden - who are both completely intoxicating to watch.

Foxtel will premiere the series at 8.30pm, May 6 on Showcase.

Topics:  editors picks foxtel movie review natalie dormer picnic at hanging rock television



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