What is Picnic at Hanging Rock? When does it start on BBC Two? All you need to know

Brush up on your knowledge of the new period drama series coming to the BBC.

We’re used to seeing period drama adaptations of the British classics on the BBC, but their forthcoming new series offers something a bit different.

Viewers might not be so familiar with Picnic at Hanging Rock, the Australian novel by Joan Lindsay that was published in 1967 and adapted for film in 1975.

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Although the novel was written in the 60s, it is set in 1900 – find out all you need to know about BBC Two’s adaptation below.

When does Picnic at Hanging Rock begin?

Picnic at Hanging Rock will air from Wednesday, July 11 at 9.05pm on BBC Two.

The series runs for six weekly episodes.

What is it about?

Director Larysa Kondracki explained: “Sometimes I would it call it a mood poem. On other days we would call it ‘enchanted chiller’. It also depends on the episode, as every episode is a bit different. It really isn’t a television show in that way, it is a six-hour movie.”

Based on Joan Lindsay’s novel, the story is set in Australia in 1900 and features Hester Appleyard, a beautiful and mysterious widow who arrives in the country to start a new life.

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She buys a remote mansion in the bush and over the next six years, transforms it into a successful college for young ladies.

However, something is haunting Hester – is it the lonely location of her school, or something more sinister in her past?

When a badly-dealt-with incident at the school precedes a Valentine’s Day picnic to nearby Hanging Rock, it sets in motion a chain of unthinkable consequences for the students and their headmistress.

Three of the students and a governess go missing from the trip, with the investigation about their disappearance having far-reaching consequences for the families, staff, and nearby township.

It explores issues of repression and sexuality, freedom and suffocating respectability, against a backdrop of a country finding its identity.

Screenwriter Beatrix Christian said: “It is like a ghost story as well as a mystery. I think the characters in their own way are as haunted as the landscape. I think the characters are going to be the most surprising thing. They are quite wonderful. It’s not so much about a picnic at a rock. The Rock, of course is magnificent, but these people are extraordinary - and we’ll recognise all of them.”

Who stars in it?

Picnic at Hanging Rock stars Game of Thrones’ Natalie Dormer, who plays headmistress Hester Appleyard.

She is joined by Orange is the New Black star Yael Stone as one of her character’s most loyal teachers, Dora Lumley.

Pupils at the school are played by Lily Sullivan (Romper Stomper), Samara Weaving (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri), Madeleine Madden, Inez Curro and Ruby Rees.

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The other teachers are played by Lola Bessis and Anna McGahan.

Other cast include Harrison Gilbertson (Need for Speed) as the upper-class Mike Fitzhubert, James Hoare as coachman Albert Crundall, Jonny Pasvolsky (Westworld, Mortdecai) as investigator Sergeant Bumpher, and Don Hany as Doctor MacKenzie.

Where was it filmed?

The story is set in Australia and was originally made by an Australian production company, so viewers will see the stunning scenery of the country as a backdrop to the mystery.

Filming locations covered the Australian state of Victoria, taking in Melbourne and some of the most beautiful areas of surrounding countryside.

Of course, the production visited the Hanging Rock Reserve, but those familiar with the area should also look out for Mount Macedon in the Central Highlands, and Werribee Park.

Natalie Dormer Q&A

Tell us about Picnic at Hanging Rock…

For years people didn’t know the story behind Picnic at Hanging Rock - whether it was true and whether it had actually happened. A group of girls go for a picnic on St Valentine’s Day 1900 and three girls and one teacher disappear. What happened? Are they murdered? Are they alive? Everyone becomes obsessed and intoxicated by this mystery.

What made you want to do this series?

I was attracted to this project because of the script. I thought the way this whole community and school had been fleshed out between the lines of what is present in the novel was wonderful. And then of course what you have overarching the entire thing is this delicious mystery: what happened to those girls? What happened on the Hanging Rock?

There is a magic that we have very much injected into our reimagining of Picnic at Hanging Rock, one that is hopefully very faithful to the tone of the novel.

What was it like to film on location in Australia?

This was my first trip to Australia, so to stand in the Macedon region and look out over the Hanging Rock made a big impression on me as well. No acting required. I was overwhelmed by the beauty and scale of Australian landscape. The Australian landscape is a character in itself in Picnic at Hanging Rock. It has an overwhelming power and informs a lot of the characters’ journeys.

Who is Hester Appleyard?

There is no greater mystery than who is Hester Appleyard. She’s got something to prove. She’s come to Australia, as a lot of people did at the end of the 19th Century, to reinvent herself, to completely give herself a new identity. We slowly reveal the ghosts and the baggage of that past - who she is and this little kingdom that she has created ten thousand miles away from home to hide from her past.

Episode 1 preview

In the final decade of the 19th century, mysterious widow Hester Appleyard arrives in Australia, haunted by a secret past, and establishes a successful school for young ladies. Six years later, on Valentine's Day 1900, she allows her pupils to picnic at Hanging Rock. And there, in the strange, brooding landscape, something unthinkable happens.

Picnic at Hanging Rock begins on Wednesday, July 11 at 9.05pm on BBC Two.

Never miss an episode with BT TV – catch up via the BBC iPlayer app.

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