It's a little bit embarrassing. I told everyone I know how much I loved the new miniseries of Picnic at Hanging Rock. I even told lots of people I don't know on WHO's TV podcast, Binge List, when, along with fellow critic Clare Rigden, I raved about the new Foxtel production.
As Clare and I mentioned, that was based on watching just the first episode ahead of its broadcast, but we were both sure we would binge all six episodes as soon as they were made available by Foxtel. But when I sat down to do just that last Sunday night, I ran into a problem: I hated the second episode.
It felt like a different show, and in some ways it was. The focus of the opening episode had been on the Appleyard College students who go missing, but they are mostly out of the picture in the second instalment, seen only in flashbacks. Those flashbacks are the best part of the episode, since the characters of Miranda, Irma and Marion, and the actresses who play them—Lily Sullivan, Samara Weaving and Madeleine Madden respectively—had a lot to do with what made the premiere so strong.
Without the troublesome students to go up against, even Natalie Dormer's Hester Appleyard felt somewhat at a loss in episode two. Instead, the focus was on the local police and the wealthy family whose son encountered the girls on their fateful walk through the bush on Valentine's Day, 1900. And I didn't really care much about any of those characters. Plot-wise, it felt like we were in a holding pattern until the revelation at the very end of episode two that one of the students had been found.
Perhaps, as my Binge List colleague Matthew Denby suggested, the question of what happened to the girls was always going to be much more interesting than the answer. And due to the structure of the new miniseries, that answer is going to play out over five episodes. Maybe we only needed three?
As it turns out, three is how many episodes I gave Picnic. In this more is more TV landscape, time is short and there are only so many chances you can give a show to hold your interest. Thinking that things might get back on track with episode three, I gave the series one more chance to grip me as it had done in the first place. I ended up turning off episode three halfway through.
The tricksy camera work that had seemed so interesting in episode one just felt annoying in episode three, the story seemed to be going in circles and the performances weren't anywhere near as compelling as they'd been originally. I would still wholeheartedly recommend the first episode of Picnic at Hanging Rock, but I'll now include an addendum: proceed with caution from that point on (advice the girls might have done well to heed before they went gallivanting around that rocky outcrop).
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