"Picnic at Hanging Rock" TV Series is an Australian Television Drama Series screening on Foxtel's Showcase on 6 May 2018. The series was adapted from Joan Lindsay's 1967 Novel of the same name about a group of schoolgirls who, while on an outing to Hanging Rock, mysteriously disappear. A gripping reimagining of the iconic Australian novel that plunges us into the mysterious disappearances of three schoolgirls and their governess on Valentine’s Day, 1900. Exploring the event’s far-reaching impact on the students and staff of Appleyard College and its enigmatic headmistress, theories soon abound, paranoia sets in, and long-held secrets surface, as the Rock exerts its strange power and the dark stain of the unsolved mystery continues to spread.

A mysteriously vast narrative, as gripping as a true crime saga and as playful as the best contemporary fiction, the central narrative follows the impact of the disappearance on the students and staff of Appleyard College, their enigmatic and formidable headmistress and the township at large. All the elements are there. A compelling mystery, dangerous secrets, provocative scandals. Sex and murder. Love and death. Beauty and cruelty. An eccentric Gothic mansion, built with gold-rush winnings out in the Australian bush. A cast of relatable characters, twisting in a furnace of change and reinvention. A magnificent female antagonist, a handsome young hero, a rebellious young heroine. It explores the spreading stain of an unsolved mystery. Theories abound, secrets are exposed and hysteria sets in, until eventually, the lives of our characters unravel.

Each episode pieces together the events that led up to the disappearance. Pivotal moments are shown from conflicting view-points, creating fresh suspicions and unexpected suspects. Events at the picnic have a ripple effect. The stakes are high. The clock is ticking. Time plays tricks, as in the novel. Exposing glimpses of the characters’ pasts and futures.

Tapping into our fear of the unknown, the series explores issues of controlling sexuality more relevant than ever at this point in history, and speaks to modern notions of nationhood and identity.

Nature is the very heart of who we are. But can we control it?


Episode 1

In the final decade of the 19th century, Hester Appleyard – a beautiful, mysterious widow – arrives in Macedon, Australia. She pays cash for the local white elephant – a formal mansion isolated out in the bush. Here, she establishes a school for young ladies. Six years later, Appleyard College is a success. A bastion of Victorian England, ruled with an iron fist by its enigmatic headmistress. But something haunts Hester. Is it the bush – dangerous and untamed? Or is it her own secret past? Appleyard College has three star pupils. Sophisticated Irma, a Rothschild heiress. Whip-smart Marion, daughter of a High Court Justice. And rebellious tomboy Miranda, a cattle-station princess. Their friendship ignites the magical and dangerous energy of adolescence. They resist the edicts of society. Confronted by the unwelcome advances of a young soldier headed for the Boer War, Miranda impales his foot with a pitchfork, earning her headmistress’s contempt for her lack of self-regard. But the girls have already convinced Hester to allow a visit to the local landmark. And so, as she punishes devoted young orphan Sara for Miranda’s recklessness by keeping her back from the outing, and Miranda retaliates by showing the headmistress an unseen object which clearly reveals some unwelcome truth, on Saint Valentine’s Day, 1900, the Appleyard girls and governesses go on a picnic, to Hanging Rock. And there, in the strange brooding landscape, something unthinkable happens…

Episode 2

Hester’s three star pupils & a governess have disappeared. Led by dogged Sergeant Bumpher, local men search for the missing ladies. Not a trace to be found. Faced with a mystery, the locals resort to speculation. Has something supernatural befallen the young ladies? Or has a human outrage occurred? The last person to see the girls at the Rock was the Honourable Michael Fitzhubert. Mike has recently arrived in the colony, trailing a discreet hint of scandal. The revelation that he has Miranda’s stocking in his pocket indicates a special fascination with the missing girl, but Mike is contemptuously dismissive of Bumpher’s insinuation that his voyage to Australia was motivated by anything improper. Hester tries to contain mounting hysteria among her pupils by putting the college into lockdown.  She believes the young orphan, Sara, obsessively devoted to Miranda, knows something about the disappearance.  But Sara’s loyalty to Miranda cannot be breached.  Two strange riders were seen at the picnic ground. Are they men from Hester’s past, attempting to ruin her?  What is the missing governess’s shocking secret revealed in an ancient letter from her estranged Hebridean father?  As the days pass and the mystery remains unsolved, tensions increase to breaking point.  When the search is finally abandoned, Mike feels compelled to return to Hanging Rock, where he spends a dark night with the ghosts of his own past.  Then, under the searing Australian sun, he searches for redemption, joined belatedly by his uncle’s coachman Albert – with whom he has forged a strong bond. Delirious Mike points up the Rock to where Albert finds one of the missing girls lying exposed to the elements. But is she dead or alive…?

Episode 3

It is the Rothschild heiress Irma who has returned, remarkably unharmed. As she recovers from her nine day ordeal at the Fitzhuberts’ summer mansion, she claims to remember little about the day of the picnic and nothing since.  She doesn’t know where the other missing girls are.  She takes refuge in dreams of a future with her rescuer Mike, the handsome young nobleman she loved at first sight the afternoon of the fateful excursion.  Mike’s uncle and aunt encourage him to marry the heiress – Irma would be a prize to rival the great debutantes of London.  But Mike is falling in love with the possibilities of this untamed colonial world.  Where he can change the path mapped out for him by his ancestors.  His friendship with Albert flowers.  He is haunted by the missing girls – but has also been infected by their rebellious energy. Meanwhile, rumours abound and the Sergeant turns his attention to the College.  What secrets lie hidden behind the locked gates?  His ongoing investigation intensifies Hester’s growing paranoia.  Memories of her dark past loosen her decorous fašade. Does she recognise the marble mason Tomasetti who passes in his cart? And the orphan, Sara, knows too much.  Is increasingly defiant – as if being driven by the wild energy of the missing.  When Mike romantically rejects Irma, events spiral out of control.  Heartbroken, Irma returns to the college, where she is interrogated by the headmistress, then surrounded by a hysterical mob of girls, all demanding to know what happened at Hanging Rock.  Irma reveals nothing.  She leaves for Melbourne, to await the ship that will take her and her secrets back to the old world.  But not before she makes one parting confession to kindly French governess Mademoiselle de Poitiers: I hate Miranda. The shadow of the Rock continues to lengthen …

Episode 4

Hester takes the remaining girls to church, as a display of normality.  She leaves the young orphan, Sara, behind, as punishment for ongoing defiance. When a malign intruder breaks in, Miranda’s impaled young soldier, Sara locates the headmistress’s Enfield revolver and shoots at him.  The Sergeant is galvanized.  Why does an upper-class English lady own a highwayman’s pistol?  Sara tries to warn him that Mrs Hester Appleyard is not what she seems, but he dismisses the child as a fantasist. An ongoing series of flashbacks have been telling the story of the missing girls, in the months leading up to the picnic.  Their dawning fear of what the future holds for young women.  Their growing sense of the erotic.  Of their unbridled power.  We’ve watched the volatile, competitive friendship between Miranda and Irma.  Now we discover there was an unconsummated romance between Marion and the missing governess, Miss Greta McCraw. Meanwhile, aftershocks from the disappearance continue to disrupt the old order.  Students are withdrawn by worried parents.  Irma’s influential father arranges for a Scotland Yard detective to sail out to the colonies, to investigate.  The publicity has focussed attention on Hester – now the marble mason Tomasetti pays her a menacing visit and clearly they share a history.  Mike rejects his family’s conservative demands and invites Albert to explore Australia with him, perhaps to pay a visit to Miranda’s family in Queensland, however, fearing they would not be equals, Albert declines.  When Albert receives a generous reward for his role in saving Irma, he immediately starts searching for the sister he left behind in a local orphanage.  He has no idea how close she is – a pupil at Appleyard College, but when he is told that her guardian would take some time to contact, Albert writes to Mike to accept his offer to travel together.  Meanwhile, Sara has become the focus of Hester’s fear and paranoia.  Wise beyond her years, all-seeing, all-knowing.  When Albert visits the college to seek help in writing a letter to Mike, Sara sights him from afar, and is overjoyed to learn that her beloved brother is coachman at nearby Lake View.  Later, Sara tries to run away, only to be forcibly detained by brutal hands at the college gates.  We must fear for Sara’s safety.

Episode 5

French governess Mademoiselle is plagued by guilt. She was in charge of the girls at the picnic. At the college, more students are being withdrawn, and the “dark stain” of the unsolved mystery continues to spread. When Mademoiselle discovers Sara is missing from class, she is informed that the young orphan has been unexpectedly collected by her guardian. But Mademoiselle grows suspicious when no staff can testify to seeing her collected, and Mrs Appleyard’s increasingly erratic behaviour fosters fears for Sara’s well-being. Mademoiselle visits the Sergeant, who is beginning to suspect that the girls may simply have run away, “not wanting to be found”. Bumpher tells her that without proof of the danger Sara’s in, he cannot act. That night Mademoiselle spies a drunk and tormented Mrs Appleyard wandering the college hallways. In her delirium Hester revisits her own days in an orphanage, and her removal by her future husband, Arthur, into a childhood of crime. The past, and recent events, are closing in on her and the next morning Hester dismisses Mademoiselle and the remaining staff. But not before Mademoiselle, searching for the proof Bumpher needs, finds Sara’s abandoned suitcase. However, Bumpher is in Melbourne, prompted by his conversation with Mademoiselle to seek a last interview with Irma before she departs for England. Through flashback, it is revealed that the girls planned to make a vow to their secret selves at the top of Hanging Rock. But the only revelation Irma shares with Bumpher is their collective determination to “never surrender”.

Episode 6

It is the Christmas holidays before the picnic, when Sara joined Miranda on her family’s cattle station. Sara is the happiest she has ever been but Miranda is furious at having to return to the college, refusing to be groomed for marriage, and threatening to run away. Back in the present, Hester has grown increasingly paranoid that vengeful Arthur is behind the disappearances and coming after her. As Mademoiselle arrives to present Sara’s abandoned suitcase to Bumpher, Sara’s guardian Cosgrove reaches town, further confirming Mrs Appleyard has lied to them all. At the college, Mrs Appleyard is packing her things and preparing to flee. She remembers her final night in London, having abandoned shot-wounded Arthur, and stopping to buy soap to wash the bloodstains from her skin. Appleyard Soap. The soap from which she took her name and motto. Her new identity. Refine and Purify. Her memories are interrupted by traumatised gardener Whitehead, who takes her to the flowerbed under the tower window, where Sara’s bloated body lies dead. Mrs Appleyard is happy to let the befuddled old man believe Sara jumped, instructing him to stay at the college whilst travelling directly to Tomasetti, determined to find out once and for all whether Arthur is behind the disappearances. But when she arrives, she learns that Arthur is long dead, that he perished the very night she left him, and she realises that all her fears of retribution have been unwarranted. She travels to Hanging Rock, and, as she ascends, we see in full all that led to her demise. Miranda threatening to reveal Mrs Appleyard’s fraudulent identity, which she has discovered from the soap tin. The rivalries and jealousies that consumed and bonded the girls, the climb up the rock on the day of the picnic. Mike following them. The girls finally feeling free as they remove their corsets and stockings. Their secret vow. Finally, Mrs Appleyard reaches the top of the Hanging Rock. All lost, she throws herself from it, surrendering to the mysterious power of nature. And, like the audience, to never knowing for certain what actually happened to Miss McCraw, Marion and Miranda.