“It’s an atmosphere of place,” Joan Lindsay once said of her novel Picnic at Hanging Rock, a seminal piece of Australian literature published in 1967. Set in 1900, the plot details the disappearance of several young women at a rural finishing school during a Valentine’s Day excursion in the mystical Macedon Ranges outside of Melbourne. According to Lindsay, the idea came to her in a dream, and she feverishly scrawled out the details, turning in a manuscript only a couple of weeks later. At the suggestion of her editor, the final chapter of the book was removed before publishing, giving the story an even greater sense of mystery by refusing to tie up the loose ends (spoiler alert: the girls are never found).
In 1975, Peter Weir directed a movie version of the novel, a critical success, despite the fact that it left some audiences peeved that the story lacked a resolution. Weir brought the unsettling metaphysics of the Macedon’s red rocks to life and counterbalanced the thirsty trees and scorched earth with imagery of the pure white outfits of the missing girls. This year, Picnic at Hanging Rock has been tackled again — this time as a miniseries, starring Natalie Dormer of Game of Thrones and The Hunger Games fame. Dormer plays Hester, the nefarious headmistress of the finishing school. But this time, things get pretty weird — and queer. The girls, for example, discover their sexuality with one another — and a relationship develops between one of the girls and a teacher, who disappears as well. Even the two men who task themselves with a modest search mission explicitly fall in love.
“Our Picnic really is a fleshing out of the book’s ensemble of characters,” says Dormer. “It’s a musing on the great themes that Lindsay set the foundations of so beautifully: repression, liberation, identity, fear, shame, social stigma, love, time, coming of age, and the hope and desire to reinvent yourself.”
On filming in Lindsay’s magically imbued wilderness, Dormer adds: “Australia is such a dramatic, stunning, epic country. The majesty of its Outback is just breathtaking. The landscape truly is a character in both the book and our miniseries. And my character is intimidated by it. Whatever your beliefs, Hanging Rock is a very spiritual place and gorgeous to visit.”
*This story is part of our '99 Things We Love About Australia' feature in the August issue of Out.