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‘Picnic at Hanging Rock’: Natalie Dormer on Why a Mystery Set in 1900 Still Feels Timely

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Picnic at Hanging Rock Natalie Dormer

Amazon Studios

Here’s something to be cautiously optimistic about: “Picnic at Hanging Rock,” one of the best, most enigmatic films of the ’70s, is getting a second life as an Amazon miniseries. Larysa Kondracki’s six-episode project is an adaptation of Joan Lindsay’s 1967 novel rather than a remake of Peter Weir’s 1975 movie, but the latter’s legacy will loom large when the new “Picnic” premieres late next month.

Natalie Dormer, who’s starring in the series, doesn’t seem worried. “Who the fuck are these women? This is amazing,'” she recalls thinking to herself when she first read the script.

“There was something in those first few scripts, but the way Larysa spoke of her vision, tonally, it just felt so fresh, so brave [and] courageous in the mashing of genres and strong visual tone that was going to be atmospheric and sophisticated in its nonlinear storytelling,” Dormer continues in her Variety interview. “It was going to have a real psychological element.”

Set in 1900, the story concerns the sudden, unexplained disappearance of three students and one of their governesses at a women’s college in Australia. Dormer plays Mrs. Appleyard, the school’s straitlaced headmistress. “Appleyard thinks the way she is raising the girls she is doing them a favor. She genuinely thinks she’s passing on the torch of knowledge. What she’s actually doing is passing on archaic structures that stifle those girls’ spirits and that they’re rebelling against.”

The more things change, the more they stay the same, and so it is that “Picnic at Hanging Rock” still feels timely today. “It’s scary how 1900 and 2018, those themes of female independence — emotionally, spiritually, financially — finding a sense of identity, not needing a man, not being defined by being what your peer group suggests you should be, peer culture, authority rebellion, spirit and voice within those constructs [are similar],” Dormer continues.

“I think in a highly anxious time for young men and women those anxieties of ‘Who the fuck am I?’ are as relevant to our characters in 1900 as they are in 2018.”

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