For his 1975 film Picnic at Hanging Rock, the Australian director Peter Weir wanted an Impressionistic look and feel, a gauzy, painterly aesthetic. He and his cinematographer, Russell Boyd, finally landed on a solution: They bought a variety of wedding veils from a bridal store, using the different fabrics and textures to create scenes in which the characters seemed to glow from within.
The detail is almost too perfect. Picnic at Hanging Rock is a film that studies girlhood from a distance, gazing at the young female students at Mrs. Appleyard’s remote Australian boarding school, and rendering their luminous beauty like flowers in a still life—lovely but unknowable. The bridal veils (the perfect symbol for how the girls are poised on the precipice of adulthood) create a layer between the viewer and the scene. Weir turns his audience into voyeurs, watching the girls and intruding on their private games, but having minimal awareness of what they might be thinking or feeling.
Amazon’s new six-part adaptation of Picnic at Hanging Rock is different. Like Weir’s film, it’s based on the 1967 novel by Joan Lindsay about three girls and a teacher who disappear one afternoon after climbing Hanging Rock, a former volcano 70 kilometers outside Melbourne. The mystery of Lindsay’s book is its most infamous feature: She declines to reveal what happened to the missing women, although a final chapter cut from her original draft and published after her death offers answers. Lindsay’s narrative, like Weir’s film, focuses on the aesthetics. Irma, a “radiantly lovely” 17-year-old heiress, likes “people and things to be beautiful,” and is regularly thrilled by her friend Miranda’s “calm oval face and straight corn-yellow hair.” Lindsay paints detailed portraits of the striking girls amid the stark Australian landscape, but she offers little sense of their interiority at all.