MODERN MYS­TERY

Natalie Dormer couldn’t re­sist the chance to join a fresh take on the clas­sic novel Pic­ni­cat Hang­ing Rock,

The Sunday Telegraph (Sydney) - TV Guide - - News - writes Holly Byrnes

AF­TER five sea­sons of Game

of Thrones and a pre­vi­ous role play­ing Anne Bo­leyn in The

Tu­dors, Natalie Dormer makes it clear she “had no in­ten­tion of putting a corset back on any time soon.”

It was Christ­mas 2016 and the English ac­tor had shed the last ves­tiges of Mar­gaery Tyrell in

GoT and just fin­ished her own film In Dark­ness, which she cowrote with her di­rec­tor part­ner An­thony Byrne.

In full “hol­i­day mode” with her fam­ily, it was then that a love let­ter of sorts ar­rived, among a bun­dle of scripts sent to pass her leisure time. The “ex­quis­ite let­ter” from

Pic­nic at Hang­ing Rock’s di­rec­tor Larysa Kon­dracki wooed the 36-year- old star to play the lead – the mys­te­ri­ous and brutal widow Hester Ap­p­le­yard.

“I started read­ing th­ese scripts and Larysa’s let­ter and I re­alised there was this am­bi­tion to cre­ate some­thing ex­traor­di­nar­ily im­por­tant and in­cred­i­bly spe­cial,” Dormer tells TV Guide.

“When I got on Skype with Larysa, sort of an­tic­i­pat­ing not to be hooked … well, we ended up talk­ing for two hours.”

Fall­ing al­most in­stantly, she says: “I was on a plane to Aus­tralia come Fe­bru­ary, so you hooked me good and proper.”

With no knowl­edge of Joan Lind­say’s ac­claimed book, nor hav­ing seen the Peter Weir film, Dormer came to read screen­writer Beatrix Chris­tian’s first three episodes “cold.”

“I think that gave me an ad­van­tage in so far as I wasn’t bat­tling in my head with a con­fused ver­sion of what the story was,” Dormer says.

She would come to un­der­stand its cul­tural im­pact and was hon­oured to be part of its re­vival, call­ing it “a na­tional trea­sure, a jewel and rightly so.”

The six-part Fox­tel and Fre­man­tle Me­dia co-pro­duc­tion takes an ex­per­i­men­tal ap­proach to that story, known so well to gen­er­a­tions many be­lieve the dis­ap­pear­ance of three school­girls and a gov­erness, all un­der the care of Mrs Ap­p­le­yard, is based in fact.

Breath­ing new life into the orig­i­nal text, and with a bold take on its vis­ual styling, Dormer hopes it will ap­peal to younger and, more es­pe­cially, in­ter­na­tional au­di­ences.

Filmed in Vic­to­ria’s Mace­don Ranges and around Mel­bourne, Dormer was also sold on an Aussie ad­ven­ture.

“The land­scape is so much of a char­ac­ter,” she says. “I knew that I would be sub­merg­ing my­self into the majesty and epic­ness and the power … it seemed the per­fect in­tro­duc­tion to your coun­try.”

De­spite ex­treme weather (“It was in­cred­i­bly hot dur­ing the day, then when the sun starts to drop, and it drops bloody quickly, it was in­cred­i­bly cold,” Dormer re­calls), the lo­ca­tion se­duced her by its beauty.

“The place has a cer­tain en­ergy, a kind of magic and it’s an en­ergy that Joan Lind­say talks about a lot in the book and it translates,” she says.

“That’s the beauty of Bea’s writ­ing … that mys­ti­cism, that magic, that earthy magic. You re­ally feel, with­out giv­ing any­thing away, by the end of episode five and six, you re­ally do feel the power of the place, push­ing through the screen.”

Her char­ac­ter won’t make her ter­ri­bly lik­able to many, but Dormer says she felt sorry for her in the end.

“Yes, she’s a tyrant and yes, she is a bully, but it all comes from this pro­found place of fear and her own de­mons, of in­se­cu­rity and grief,” she says.

“It’s all this bag­gage that we beau­ti­fully, slowly re­veal, in this long, lin­ear sto­ry­telling, over the course of six hours.

“It’s a moral­ity tale: if you don’t han­dle your pain prop­erly, the dark­ness takes you over and the mon­ster you can be­come.”

In­ter­na­tional crit­ics have al­ready been wowed by the drama, which de­buted at the Ber­lin Film Fes­ti­val; then was in­vited to be part of New York’s TriBeCa film fes­ti­val last month.

Dormer got her first glimpse of the fin­ished se­ries be­tween per­for­mances on the West End late last year – see­ing it on a big screen, to cin­e­matic ef­fect.

“It was an ab­so­lute joy to see it blown up,” she says. “It re­ally does hold on the big screen … it has such a cin­ema feel. A cou­ple of my team popped their heads in and they turned to me and said, ‘Oh my God, this is what you were do­ing for three-and-a-half months, now we un­der­stand’.”

It’s just the start of global ac­claim, she pre­dicts, and a turn­ing point for the lo­cal TV in­dus­try in de­liv­er­ing pres­tige drama to the rest of the world.

“To me, it felt so fron­tieresque,” she says.

“To be part of that jour­ney, to be one of the few for­eign­ers that was of­fered a part in that epic mis­sion, I was just so curious and I think this is go­ing to have done that for you guys. Hope­fully it kicks off a shit­load of pro­duc­tion with this qual­ity tele­vi­sion. I know you had Top of the Lake, a co-prod with New Zealand, but this is re­ally spe­cial.”

PIC­NIC AT HANG­ING ROCK 8.30PM, SUN­DAY, FOX­TEL’S SHOW­CASE. FULL SE­RIES STREAM­ING ON FOX­TEL NOW AND ON DE­MAND

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