Picnic At Hanging Rock is the latest in a long line of classic Australian films to be remade, rebooted, prequelised and sequelised. It kicked off with the beautiful Puberty Blues (movie 1981, Ten series 2014), Stan’s double dose of Wolf Creek (movies 2005 and 2014, streaming series 2016, 2017) and Romper Stomper (movie 1992, streaming series 2018), the unnecessary Wake In Fright (movie 1971, Ten miniseries 2017), the never-going-to-end Underbelly: Chopper (movie 2000, Nine miniseries 2018) and soon at the cinema, Storm Boy (original 1976, remake sometime later this year).
There was even talk of another Crocodile Dundee but whoah there, fellas. As brilliant as that Tourism Australia spoof with Chris Hemsworth and Danny McBride was, nothing can top Hoges’s 1986 original. Crocodile Dundee 2 (1988) was just OK but Crocodile Dundee in Los Angeles (2001) was dreadful. So, Crocodile Dundee 4, really? Never say never but please, reinvent that wheel and no more lame drug thugs or art thieves, OK?
Which brings us to Picnic At Hanging Rock and the crazy bravery in even attempting another one. Next to Wake In Fright, the 1975 movie is one of the most critically acclaimed Australian movies of all time but much more well known and revered. The original, which took about $25 million box office in today’s money, ran continuously for over a year at city cinemas like Melbourne’s Bercy and overseas it was seen as being at the forefront of the New Wave of Australian cinema. For Foxtel and Fremantle, these are very big and very legendary school shoes to be stepping into.
For a start, they headed back to the original 1967 Joan Lindsay novel and not the Peter Weir film, which was a very Peter Weir interpretation of it. It means more fleshing out of characters like the snooty headmistress Mrs Appleyard, originally played by Rachel Roberts but now fascinatingly portrayed by Game Of Thrones’ Natalie Dormer. Her backstory, glimpsed occasionally via nightmares and a much lower-class accent voiceover, hints at dastardry in the past and will make her eventual unravelling all the more karmic in its devastation.
The revamping of Miranda though, once a Botticelli-like schoolgirl made iconic by the angelic Anne Lambert, is somewhat more disconcerting. Now played by Lily Sullivan, Miranda is a tomboy who lashes out violently when faced with being sexually assaulted. Within the first two episodes, there is scant detail about what in her background has made her like this – more information had better be coming during the next four instalments!
It goes without saying that I am in for the long run, but what of first-time viewers, particularly those not familiar with the slow-moving story? When Peter Weir re-cut his movie for its 20th anniversary reissue, he actually removed seven minutes of footage even though the film only ran for 115 minutes. It could be the only Director’s Cut in the world not to have added more footage to “expand the director’s original vision” so good on Weir for realising he needed to pick up the pace a bit.
That’s why making all of this new series available for streaming from Sunday is a smart move from Foxtel, because this needs a bingeing audience. It’s possible those watching it weekly on showcase may not last the distance but let’s hope they do. Where it will end though is anyone’s guess but a clue could be in the new tie-in novel, which finishes at the same point as originally published, but not included is “The Final Chapter” which was published separately, years later, in 1987. Perhaps that suggests there will be yet another ending, or maybe none at all as shown in the book and movie. Audiences were once left puzzling at what happened, and that didn’t make everyone happy, but modern audiences won’t be at all surprised if the door (or is that portal?) is kept open for all options in the future.