Ghosts from the past
The strangely beguiling mystery Picnic at Hanging Rock is coming to the small screen. Lily Sullivan, who stars in the reboot, tells DANIELLE MCGRANE about the return of the popular story and whether the mystery will be solved.
First it was a book, then it was a film and four decades later it’s about to become a TV show. Joan Lindsay’s classic Pic
nic at Hanging Rock has been made into a much-publicised six-part series starring Game
of Thrones’ Natalie Dormer. It means this intriguing tale is set to open itself up to a new generation.
“Everyone is always ask- ing, ‘Why are we retouching something that was a book and then the film, do we really need to go back there?’, but I found with people just a bit younger than me, a lot of them have no idea about it,” Lily Sullivan said.
Sullivan plays Miranda Reid in the reboot, one of the schoolgirls who goes missing at Hanging Rock while on a day out with school mistress- es on Valentine’s Day in 1900.
What follows the excursion is the mysterious disappearance of Miranda and some of her school friends, along with one school mistress.
Sullivan says she was not unfamiliar with the tale.
“I’d read the book, but the film was something my mum had a real love for so I watched it quite young,” she said.
But there are some darker elements to the story which were lost on the young actress. It wasn’t until she recently re-watched director Peter Weir’s 1975 film, and re-read the book, that the strange, psychological thriller really opened up to her.
It also informed this new re-telling of the story.
“I think that’s the beauty of this story; you can read
Sullivan: “Do not be under any illusions from the costumes, the corsets – this is a modern thriller mystery. Prepare yourself for complicated, dark women.”
it throughout stages of your life and you can interpret it in different ways, or interpret different characters’ stories, and I feel as if that’s what we did on set,” she said.
“It had such an intense collaborative drive and everyone was giving their best effort and their interpretation, and I hope that that’s what the audiences will experience, the ambiguous nature of the psychological magical tale of Picnic at Hanging Rock.”
The book, and film, famously ended on a bit of a cliffhanger. The mystery remained unsolved (aside from Joan Lindsay’s final standalone chapter, published after her death). Whether or not the TV series will solve that mystery remains to be seen, but Sullivan says there was more information in the book that may not have been previously explored.
“We flesh out the characters, we give them pasts and complexes. They’re all tied together by hope and the desire for freedom. So we give them all a backstory really, which is exciting,” she said.
“In the book, Joan Lindsay leaves these little threads and if you pull on them the characters’ world and things that they say within the book, you could run so deep with it in regards to sexual suppression, female suppression, identity, growing up in Australia, which didn’t have an identity at that time. How confusing it was to be a human of that civilisation.”
There are strong and relevant messages that run throughout the series that Sullivan hopes will serve as a reminder of what society has achieved, and also as a cautionary tale.
“I hope that young girls, when they watch it, see themselves in these young women and see themselves in a time when they didn’t have a voice and they were stuck in the middle of nowhere without internet,” she said.
“Do not be under any illusions from the costumes, the corsets – this is a modern thriller mystery. Prepare yourself for complicated, dark women. We always say it’s 1900 with a rock ‘n’ roll edge.” n Picnic at Hanging Rock Tonight, 8pm on Showcase (Foxtel)
Return to the Rock: From left, Samara Weaving, Madeleine Madden, Natalie Dormer and Lily Sullivan.