This is a fantastical story with Natalie Dormer. It follows more or less the Todorov’s definition of the genre as we are presented with a mystery that could have two or more explanations either rational or supernatural. This 6-episode Australian TV mini-series is based on a 1967 novel by Joan Lindsay which was also quite successfully adapted as a movie in 1975 by Peter Weir. It retells the story with more modern themes (like gender identity) and, like many other recent series or movies set in the victorian era, it is ultimately about the powerlessness of women in society at that time and all the distress that such situation was causing them.
Hester Appleyard is an ex-con on the run who purchases an Australian mansion to open a school for young ladies. Everything goes well until three students and one of their teachers mysteriously disappear on Valentine’s Day 1900 while on a picnic at a local landmark known as the Hanging Rock. This tragedy has a great psychological impact on the remaining students, the local community as well as on the finance and reputation of the school—leading to the discovery of Mrs Appleyard’s secrets and more tragedies. Did the girls get dizzy by the heat and get lost? Did they voluntarily run away to escape the harsh disciplinary environment of the school? Were they attacked and killed by a sexual predator? Were they kidnapped by Appleyard’s ex-crime partner seeking revenge? Or were they spirited away by the strange spiritual and physical properties of the rock itself which is a sacred (and feared) place for the aboriginals and seems to warp space-time continuum? No one will really know…
It is a very interesting and entertaining story but the storytelling a little confusing. It is beautifully filmed but fails to capture the mystical atmosphere essential for the genre and which the movie succeeded to establish. All in all, it’s a rather average and unremarkable series. This ambivalence is well expressed in the Rotten Tomatoes ratings (80% for the critics versus 58% for the audience).
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