If you’ve read Dame Joan Lindsay’s famous 1967 novel about three schoolgirls who disappear from Hanging Rock outside Melbourne on St Valentine’s Day 1900, then you’ll remember the schoolgirl crushes of the privileged young girls boarding at Appleyard College for Young Ladies.
Peter Weir’s 1975 film adaptation that made Lindsay’s Picnic at Hanging Rock internationally famous certainly picked up on the erotic subtext as the beautiful young girls on the cusp of womanhood wafted about in virginal white lace reading love letters as the Rock loomed above. But the eroticism whispered and trembled just beneath the film’s gorgeously delicate surface.
But not in 2017. The six-part Foxtel adaptation of the novel, now about half way through filming in and around Melbourne at various historic mansions, takes the sexual undercurrents rippling among the residents of Appleyard College and the local townsfolk and makes them a tad more obvious.
Reports from the shoot helmed by the Canadian director Larysa Kondracki (controversially appointed to the project when producers claimed they couldn’t find a suitable Australian director), say that along with some full-frontal male nudity, and a not so subtle emphasis on the sexual tension between schoolgirls Miranda and Sara, is the discovery of a wooden dildo in the possession of the French mistress Mademoiselle Dianne de Poitiers (played by French actress Lola Bessis). The accidental unearthing of the non-battery operated dildo might be as shocking to the staff and students of Appleyard College as it might have been to Joan Lindsay. In Foxtel’s version of the classic novel, Mademoiselle de Poitiers is also having a secret sexual relationship with the town’s (male) watchmaker.
When the casting was announced in February its producers said in a statement: “Though the story remains in 1900, Picnic at Hanging Rock will be 21st century storytelling for the premium Foxtel drama audience”.
The series stars Natalie Dormer (Game of Thrones, The Hunger Games) as headmistress Mrs Hester Appleyard, Yael Stone (Orange Is The New Black, Deep Water) as Miss Dora Lumley the mistress of deportment and bible studies, Anna McGahan (The Doctor Blake Mysteries, ) as Miss Greta McCraw the mistress of geography and mathematics and Sibylla Budd (Tomorrow When The War Began, Winners & Losers) as Mrs Valange the art teacher. Among the schoolgirls Lily Sullivan (Camp, Jungle) plays Miranda Reid, Madeleine Madden (Tomorrow When The War Began) plays Marion Quade and newcomer Inez Curro plays Sara Waybourne.