Picnic at Hanging Rock

TV review by
Joyce Slaton, Common Sense Media
Picnic at Hanging Rock TV Poster Image
Stylish and intriguing update on a spooky Aussie tale.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this TV show.

Positive Messages

Iffy messages about the role of women are period-correct and ultimately subverted -- women are clearly strong characters with agency, though they are told that their worth is in their appearance and that "refinement" and marrying a rich man is crucial to their future. 

Positive Role Models & Representations

Characters are complex, often dark: one self-harms, one has a cruel streak, another is contemptuous of fellow students who aren't as rich, popular, and pretty as her. Authority figures aren't always caring about the dependents they're in charge of. Female characters are central to this drama, and women have strength and individual quirks. 

Violence

Long periods pass without violence, but when it does occur it's shocking and bloody: A man attempts to sexually assault a woman and ends up with a pitchfork in his foot (we see the fork going into his shoe and dark blood gushing out as he screams); a young girl is forced to show a teacher the self-harming marks under her bloomers and has rubbing alcohol applied as she screams. 

Sex

This series is frank about bodies and their functions: A crying tween girl is made to lift her skirt to show her bloomers (we see her from behind), whereupon a teacher tells her that her "monthly blood has arrived" and she can now "have a baby." A woman's nude buttocks are briefly visible during a dream sequence. 

Language

Language is infrequent and tends toward the vintage: "tart," "t-ts," "ass," "bastard" (meaning a person born to unmarried parents).

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Characters drink alcohol from time to time, particularly those coded as unreliable or villainous, like a man who drinks from a flask before trying to sexually assault a woman. 

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Picnic at Hanging Rock is a period drama about a group of schoolgirls who vanish on a trip to a strange rock formation. Violence is infrequent but shocking: A man's foot is impaled with a pitchfork while he's trying to sexually assault a woman, a young girl has bloody marks on her body from self-harm that her teacher sadistically "cleans" with rubbing alcohol. A woman's bare buttocks are briefly visible during a dream sequence. Characters drink alcohol, including a man who slugs from a flask before attempting to rape a woman. Language is infrequent and period-correct: "t-ts," "ass," "tart," "bastard." 

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What's the story?

In a small town in Victoria, Australia, in 1900, a group of schoolgirls and teachers go on a PICNIC AT HANGING ROCK to see a mysterious rock structure. When Irma (Samara Weaving), Miranda (Lily Sullivan), and Marion (Madeleine Madden) suddenly disappear while on the outing, the town is rocked by the happening, and so is slippery headmistress Hester Appleyard (Natalie Dormer).  

Is it any good?

Sensual and creepy at the same time, this update on a classic Australian tale has beautiful visuals and a fairytale-like mystery at its center. How could four girls climb a rock but only three come down? Fans of the classic 1975 art-house movie of the same name (or the equally classic 1967 novel) will note that though the underpinnings of this version of Picnic at Hanging Rock are the same, the characters are smartly updated. In 1975 Mrs. Appleyard was a tight-bunned patrician great aunt-type and the girls ethereal and indistinguishable nymphs in white dresses. In the 2018 version, the headmistress is a woman with a Secret Past, and each student is sensitively sketched, particularly free-spirited tomboy Miranda. 

Dormer's Mrs. Appleyard is also a measure more cruel than her 1975 predecessor, particularly to charity ward Sara (Inez Currõ), whose legs are laddered with self-harming razor cuts that Appleyard douses with rubbing alcohol while dispensing hard-earned wisdom about the world. How did she earn said wisdom? Watching that unfold -- along with the many other secrets of the many other characters -- is one of the many pleasures of this fascinating, slow-burning series. 

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the historical setting of Picnic at Hanging Rock. What privileges and power do women have now that they didn't when these characters existed?

  • Have you read the book on which this and the 1975 movie were based? Have you seen the 1975 movie? What changes have been made to this version of the story, and why were they made? 

  • This drama was produced and written by a mostly female team. Does this surprise you? Do you think it's any different because of who made it?

TV details

For kids who love mysteries

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