This sumptuous reimagining of the iconic Australian novel begins on BBC Two this week. First published in 1967, Picnic at Hanging Rock is a tale about the remote Appleyard College in the Australian bush and its mysterious headmistress, who hides a shadowy past. The story follows the disappearance of three schoolgirls, along with their governess on Valentine’s Day, 1900.
Though a work of fiction, the lack of clarity and misdirection from its author Joan Lindsey when giving interviews about the book, led to confusion as to its authenticity. As the places in the novel are real, the tale has since been incorporated into the very fabric of Australian folklore. There's even a statue of one of the girls, Miranda, at the Hanging Rock visitors' centre in Victoria, Australia.
Mrs Hester Appleyard - Headmistress
Played by Natalie Dormer
Costume drama veteran Natalie Dormer (The Tudors, Game of Thrones, The Scandalous Mrs W) dominates the screen as the high-born headmistress of Appleyard College. A prim and perfect example to her charges, she is staunchly starched and buttoned down, both physically and emotionally. Her steadfast belief in the power of a woman’s good name and character is key to the running of her institution. The only glimpse beneath this perfected veneer is the presence of a cameo of her husband, Arthur, which remains persistently pinned to her collar.
Behind her flawless façade lurks the mystery of Hester’s own upbringing. Though she tries to dress it up, her accent sometimes hints that her aristocratic airs are not all that they seem. The question is, what will she do to protect her secret?
Mademoiselle Dianne De Poitiers - Teacher
Played by Lola Beiss
A romantic, youthful teacher, the French governess often finds she has more of an affinity with the girls under her care than with the other teachers. Tasked with leading their studies in French and Dancing, she also oversees the girls’ wardrobes. Dianne spends much of her time fraternising with the help, especially Minnie the maid. Though she understands the rules of the hierarchical class system she inhabits, that doesn’t stop her settling her eye on fellow countryman Louis Montpellier, the town watchmaker.
Her life is a lonely one at the college, so she is prone to daydreaming, but in the aftermath of the picnic, she must once more engage with reality if there is any hope of uncovering the truth.
Dora Lumley - Teacher
Played by Yael Stone
Vivacious Yael Stone has previously appeared in prison dramedy Orange is the New Black as bisexual vixen Morello, but her latest role is much more stern and odious.
Constantly lurking in the shadows, Dora is Mrs Appleyard’s right-hand woman. Though she tries to emulate her superior, she often comes across as try hard and a busy-body. She relished the chance to stir things up between students and staff by reporting every little indiscretion – the girls find her insufferable. She’s close to her older brother Reg, who shares in her exaggerated sense of pomposity.
Greta McCraw - Teacher
Played by Anna McGahan
Shrouded in mystery since she first turned up in Australia many years hence, the no nonsense mathematics teacher does not suffer fools lightly. It could be said that she only has eyes for star pupil and fellow mathematician Marion, who shares both her love of equations and her dislike of anything material or appearance related. However, when she goes missing with the girls, her mysterious background casts a shadow over her character.
Miranda Reid - Student
Played by Lily Sullivan
Hauled to Appleyard College against her will, Miranda is the eldest and only girl in a family of boys. Having grown up on a remote cattle ranch in Northern Queensland she’s headstrong, feisty and feels more comfortable in the wild than in the strict confines of the school. Her pride leads her to frequently challenge not only her mysterious head teacher but also the confines of the age and society and have been imposed upon her.
Irma Leopold - Student
Played by Samara Weaving
The apple of Mrs Appleyard’s eye, so to speak, and hailing from a well-to-do family (her mother was a Rothschild) Irma is set to inherit a fortune. As a senior border and valuable acquisition, she may have fancy frocks in abundance but is severely lacking in academic aptitude. Her first meeting with Mike – on Valentine’s Day no less – cements him in her mind as her one true love, a trifle awkward given his feelings about her classmate Miranda. The question is, what will she do to be with him?
Samara Weaving has followed her uncle Hugo (Lord of the Rings) into the spotlight, having already starred in Aussie soap Home and Away, as well as Netflix Original film The Babysitter.
Marion Quade - Student
Played by Madeleine Madden
Marion has little time for the frivolities of Appleyard. She’s not interested in the dresses and dancing that consume the other girls’ waking thoughts. Instead, she sees the world through the logical steadfastness of mathematics. Miss McCraw is the only one who understands her methodical mind, the satisfaction of arithmetic and the exhilaration of solving a new equation.
Though her father is a prominent judge, her mixed race heritage and her birth out of wedlock leave her open to ridicule from the other girls.
Sara Waybourne - Student
Played by Inez Curro
Shakespeare’s words “Though she be but little, she is fierce” would ring perfectly true when describing Appleyard’s youngest resident, Sara. Tragically separated from her only family - her older brother Albert - at a tender age, Sara has been adopted by the wealthy Jasper Cosgrove. She has had her share of tragedy, which has made her headstrong.
Loyal to her roommate Miranda, a photo of whom she carries at all times, she’ll go to any lengths to protect her friend, even if it means incurring the wrath of Mrs Appleyard herself.
Edith Horton - Student
Played by Ruby Rees
It’s a difficult feat to be both the school dunce as well as a total know-it-all, but Edith manages it with aplomb. Her mantra of a woman’s place being in the home often wears thin, that and her unabashed intolerance make her fairly unpopular with the other girls.
This may all be a symptom of her neglectful mother’s presence just a short distance from the college. She chooses not to visit her daughter, prompting Edith to act out.
The Hon. Michael (Mike) Fitzhubert
Played by Harrison Gilbertson
Dashing Mike is a new addition the small town’s social scene, having recently arrived to stay with his aunt and uncle. His raffish, somewhat haughty exterior belies his friendship with the tattooed and unpolished coachman Albert, to whom he feels a strong connection. Mike is utterly disinterested in the parade of eligible young women put before him, that is until he sees Miranda on her way up to The Rock.
What secrets does he conceal after being the last person to see the women alive? And, for that matter, what is such a well-heeled man doing in being shipped off to a remote part of Australia in the first place?
Albert Crundall - Coachman
Played by James Hoare
Rough and ready Albert has been dragged up by his boot straps, having been raised at an orphanage for most of his youth. Now he finds himself in a stable and relatively comfortable position, with a friend in Mike, the only thing missing is his beloved little sister Sara, who he hasn’t seen in years. Little does Albert know that she resides just a few miles away, at Appleyard. During his tumultuous youth, he’s supped with sailors, been incarcerated and generally drifted about but he’s finally happy with his lot in life, at least for now.
Played by Jonny Pasvolsky
The lead investigator in the disappearance of the Appleyard ladies, Bumpher is a quiet man, looking to escape the hustle and bustle of city life after relocating from Victoria. When he is called upon to provide answers to the townspeople about what has happened to the girls and their teacher, the lack of evidence in the case takes its toll on someone for whom facts and science are everything.
Played by Don Hany
A simple country man, Dr. MacKenzie holds a torch for Mrs. Appleyard, though she keeps him at arm’s length. Their informal relationship is of benefit to both parties – he in the gratification of some emotional attachment and she in acquiring free and discrete medical assistance for her girls.
He is the voice of reason and an ally to the school in a town rife with gossip and hearsay.
Picnic at Hanging Rock starts on 11 July at 9.05pm on BBC Two.