Picnic at Hanging Rock (film)

Picnic at Hanging Rock (film)

Infobox Film
name = Picnic at Hanging Rock

caption = Original Movie Poster
amg_id = 1:38084
imdb_id = 0073540
writer = Novel:
Joan Lindsay
Cliff Green
starring = Rachel Roberts
Vivean Gray
Helen Morse
Kirsty Child
Tony Llewellyn-Jones
director = Peter Weir
producer =Executive Producer:
A. John Graves
Patricia Lovell
Hal McElroy
Jim McElroy
distributor =Atlantic Releasing Corp.
cinematography = Russell Boyd
editing = Max Lemon
released = flagicon|Australia 8 August 1975
(Adelaide, SA)
flagicon|United Kingdom 31 October 1976
flagicon|United States 2 February 1979
runtime = 115 mins
country = flagicon|AUS Australia
language = English
music = Non Original Music:
Johann Sebastian Bach
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Ludwig van Beethoven | awards =
budget = $440,000

"Picnic at Hanging Rock" is a 1975 Australian mystery film directed by Peter Weir, adapted from the novel of the same name. It premiered at the Hindley Cinema Complex in Adelaide, South Australia on 8 August 1975. It became one of the first Australian films to reach an international audience, receiving international acclaim and commercial popularity, and thus has an important place in both cinematic and Australian history. The film stars Helen Morse, Rachel Roberts and Vivean Gray. The film centres on a party of schoolgirls who disappear after being drawn into a mysterious rock formation in Australia in 1900.

It is famed for its dreamlike aura, eerie soundtrack and mysterious, unresolved story; for the debate over its meaning, see the article on the original novel, "Picnic at Hanging Rock".


The screenplay, adapted by Green from Lindsay's novel, tells the story of the mysterious disappearance of three schoolgirls and their teacher during a picnic at a geological formation known as Hanging Rock on Valentine's Day in 1900. The reason for their disappearance, whether by human, natural or supernatural agency, is never discovered, but their disappearance has a profound effect upon everybody in their community.

The film begins in an English girls' school in the Australian bush. The school is headed by Mrs. Appleyard (Rachel Roberts), an indomitable and unbending figurehead of authority. Her staff include the remote mathematics mistress Miss Greta McCraw (Vivean Gray), said to have a 'masculine' disposition, who vanishes on the Rock with three pupils; the young and beautiful Mademoiselle de Portiers (Helen Morse) who teaches French and deportment, and the jittery Miss Lumley (Kirsty Child), who is anxious to please Mrs. Appleyard.

Although she commands only a little more than a half-hour of screen time, the film's central character is Miranda (Anne-Louise Lambert), a young student whose beauty is compared by Mademoiselle de Portiers to one of Botticelli's angels. Her circle of friends includes Irma (Karen Robson), Marion (Jane Vallis), Rosamund (Ingrid Mason) and the waifish Sara (Margaret Nelson) whose affection for Miranda stems from a deep crush. Another pupil, Edith (Christine Schuler) hovers on the edge of Miranda's circle, desperate for acceptance. Sara, an orphan who is a kind of charity pupil, is disliked by Mrs. Appleyard, and is not allowed to join the outing, ostensibly because she hasn't memorized an assigned poem. Miranda tells Sara she "won't be here much longer," suggesting a premonition of her disappearance.

The girls ride to Hanging Rock, a 500-foot tall volcanic rock formation. Mlle. de Portiers and Miss McCraw are the supervisors. Mr. Hussey drives the girls in his wagon to the formation. For some odd reason, everyone’s timepiece and wristwatch stops at noon. Miranda cuts a cake in honor of St. Valentine.

During the picnic, a handful of the girls—Miranda, Irma, Marion and Edith—decide to explore the rock in direct defiance of Mrs Appleyard's specific instruction. After a brief nap on a plateau, they get up, and seemingly under a spell, advance as one toward an inner recess, witnessed by Edith, who cries out to them not to go. She screams and runs downward. One of the teachers, Miss McCraw, goes up to see what has happened.

By sunset Mr. Hussey's wagon has arrived back at the school where they tell Mrs. Appleyard about what happened and that only Edith has returned, hysterical and unable to explain what has transpired-only that she saw Miss McCraw heading up toward the plateau without her skirt. The police investigation led by Sgt. Bumpher (Wyn Roberts) and Constable Jones (Garry McDonald) leads them to a young Englishman, Michael Fitzhubert (Dominic Guard) who was lunching at the rock with his family, his uncle Colonel Fitzhubert (Peter Collingwood) and Mrs. Fitzhubert (Olga Dickie). Michael, with Albert (John Jarratt), the Fitzhubert party's young local Australian valet, spent part of the lunch watching the picnic, but offer no clues in the investigation.

The nearby town of Woodend quickly becomes restless as news of the disappearance spreads. The townsfolk are angry, demanding answers. Michael, who becomes obsessed with finding Miranda, gets Albert to accompany him to the Rock for another search after another search turned up nothing. The next morning, Albert travels up to the rock and finds a nearly delirious Michael whom he helps back down to the ground. Albert follows Michael‘s trail and discovers Irma, unconscious but unharmed. At the home where Irma is treated for dehydration and exposure, she tells the police investigator that she has no memory of what happened on the rock, or of the fate of her companions.

During a walk in the woods with Irma, Michael tells her that he’s still obsessed with finding Miranda, but she still cannot remember anything about that day. Soon, both Albert and Michael begin to have terrible nightmares about a great evil that lurks at Hanging Rock. They continue to remain miserable over the three remaining disappearances.

A kind of quiet mass hysteria consumes the school. Lessons seem to proceed with the usual tight order and control, but as days pass and the missing women are not found, parents notify Mrs. Appleyard that they will be withdrawing their daughters from the school. During gym class, Irma stops by, dressed from head to foot in elegant red; her parents are taking her to Europe. The girls at first greet her with silence, then begin screaming frantically that she must tell them what happened, and physically attack her. Mlle. de Poitiers has to pull them off, and Irma runs away. Sara is discovered tied to the wall "to correct her posture". Miss Lumley gives notice that she is quitting.

Mrs. Appleyard takes to drink and is more abusive than ever toward Sara, first telling her that her guardian has not paid her tuition and she must be sent to an institution, then lying to the remaining staff that Sara's guardians have taken her away overnight. The next morning, Sara's body is found in the greenhouse by Tom the handyman. She apparently jumped or was pushed from her second floor bedroom window. When the doctor rushes into Mrs. Appleyard's office, she greets him with a calm stare; she is already dressed in full mourning. Elsewhere, Albert tells Michael that he has had a dream that his orphan sister came to see him in his dreams. Sara is revealed to be Albert’s sister.

Epilogue. A voice-over narrator details that after Sara’s dead body was discovered, Mrs. Appleyard disappeared before the police could question her about the circumstances surrounding Sara’s death. A few days later, Mrs. Appleyard’s body was found beneath Hanging Rock. She went there and jumped to her death. No one else was ever discovered there.


The film was produced by Patricia Lovell, Hal McElroy and Jim McElroy. Peter Weir directed the film. Screenwriter David Williamson was originally chosen to adapt the film, but was unavailable and recommended noted TV writer Cliff Green for the job. The film had a budget of A$440,000.

Weir originally cast Ingrid Mason as Miranda, overlooking Anne-Louise Lambert who had a remoteness that set her apart from the other girls at the audition. Later, realising that such remoteness was precisely what the character needed, he re-cast Lambert as Miranda. Mason was persuaded to stay on, in the role of Rosamund. Lambert claims in interviews that she got the part not because of her acting ability but because she was slimmer than the first choice. [ [http://www.bookmice.net/darkchilde/rock/lambert.html "It's been no picnic"] , interview with Anne Lambert. Webpage found 2008-04-25.]

Filming commenced at Hanging Rock, Victoria on 2 February 1975. Martindale Hall, in South Australia was used to stand for Appleyard Hall.

The voice parts of some of the school girls -- those played by novice actresses -- were later dubbed by professional voice actors. The dubbing was done in secret, and the voice actors were not credited. Actress Barbara Llewellyn has revealed that she provided the voice part for the role of Edith, which was performed by Christine Schuler. [ [http://www.simplyaustralia.net/?p=70 Simply Australia "Picnic At Hanging Rock: The Unseen Voices"] ]



At the beginning of the film we are introduced to a microcosm of English propriety - a traditional English college for young ladies, set in the wild, chaotic landscape of the Australian bush. The contrast between transplanted English tradition with the ancient, spiritual wilderness of Australia permeates the film. The veneer of order which comes with the transplanted English tradition masks a community simmering with emotion: young Sara's crush on Miranda, gardener Tom's (Tony Llewellyn-Jones) affair with Minnie (Jackie Weaver) and more.


The film's rhythm is marked by a recurring sense of unease created by lingering images of the Rock and of the Australian bush. Director of photography Russell Boyd reportedly enhanced the film's diffuse and ethereal look with the simple technique of placing a piece of bridal veil over the camera lens.Fact|date=February 2007

Compounding the film's dreamlike quality is the sometimes disjointed but intriguing dialogue - in the opening sequence, Miranda (Anne-Louise Lambert) paraphrases Edgar Allan Poe, whispering "What we see and what we seem are but a dream; a dream within a dream". (Poe's quote is "All that we see or seem | Is but a dream within a dream" [http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/A_Dream_Within_a_Dream?oldid=442495] )

The narrative structure of the film is dominated by irresolution; most noticeably, the mystery of where the girls vanished to is not explained, but also the fact that the orphaned Sara and the valet Albert are clearly brother and sister remains unresolved within the frame of the story, and while each character relates an anecdote which confirms the relationship, they never meet.


Weir recounts that when the film was first screened in the United States, American audiences were greatly disturbed by the lack of any clear resolution to the plot.Fact|date=February 2007

In honour of the film's success, and its enduring popularity, "Picnic at Hanging Rock" is still screened annually in the picnic grounds at Hanging Rock, Victoria, on St. Valentine's Day.

The film was a major critical success, in Australia, the U.S. as well as the UK and many other countries. It has a rating of 94/100 fresh on Rotten Tomatoes. [ [http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/picnic_at_hanging_rock Picnic at Hanging Rock - Movie Reviews, Trailers, Pictures - Rotten Tomatoes ] ]


The main title music, which plays a major role in creating the haunting atmosphere for which the film is remembered, comes from two traditional Romanian panpipe pieces, "Doina: Sus Pe Culmea Dealului" and "Doina Lui Petru Unc" with Romanian Gheorghe Zamfir on panpipe (or panflute) and Swiss born Marcel Cellier playing organ.

Weir first heard Zamfir's music on the album "Flutes de Pan et Orgue", originally released on the French Cellier label. Although the film was instrumental in popularising Zamfir's distinctive music, Weir later revealed that Zamfir refused to contribute original music for the film, forcing Weir to obtain the licencing rights for the tracks he had originally heard on the Cellier disc.Fact|date=February 2007

The "ascent" theme, which plays first during the girls' climb, then during Michael's ascent of the Rock in pursuit of the missing girls, and later when Albert makes a similar climb, was one of several original compositions written for the film by Australian composer Bruce Smeaton.Fact|date=February 2007

Other music in the film is classical, including: Bach's Prelude No. 1 in C, a piano piece used near the beginning of the film; the Romance piece from Mozart's "Eine Kleine Nachtmusik"; the Andante Cantabile movement from Tchaikovsky's "String Quartet No.1 Op.11"; and the Adagio Un Poco Mosso from Beethoven's "Piano Concerto No. 5", also known as the "Emperor Concerto", a dreamlike piano piece used later in the film when Michael is haunted by his memories of Miranda.

The Adagio from Beethoven's "Emperor Concerto", is a favourite of producer Hal McElroy; it has been used in several of his films, including the television mini-series "Return to Eden".

There is currently no official soundtrack commercially available. In 1976, CBS released a vinyl LP titled "A Theme from Picnic at Hanging Rock" through their Epic label in the UK. This album included the two Doinas listed above, subtitled "Miranda's Theme" and "A Theme from Picnic at Hanging Rock" respectively; the remaining tracks were more Romanian folk tunes, and the artwork was unrelated to the film, or to Hanging Rock. The Doinas concerned are available on CD on the relatively obscure Disques Cellier label, and are also available as recorded live versions.


*In 1976, the film was nominated for one award - Best Cinematography - by the British Society of Cinematographers.
*In 1977, it was nominated for three BAFTA Awards by the British Academy of Film and Television: Best Cinematography for Russell Boyd, Best Costume Design for Judith Dorsman and Best Soundtrack for Greg Bell and Don Donnelly. Boyd won.
*In 1979, the film was nominated for two Saturn Awards by the Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror Films in the United States: Best Cinematography for Russell Boyd and Best Writing for Cliff Green. Boyd won.

Director's cut

In 1998, the film was re-released theatrically as a director's cut. Unlike many directors who use the opportunity to restore material to a film, Peter Weir chose to cut seven minutes from the film in parts he felt were either too long, or distracted from the film's narrative. He also added two brief moments. This shortened version remains controversial to those who felt it damaged the pacing and texture of the original 1975 cut which had stood for twenty-three years.Fact|date=March 2008

A three disc special edition that contains both original and Director's cut, plus extras, was issued on 30th June 2008.


ee also

* South Australian Film Corporation

External links

* [http://www.hangingrock.info Official website of Hanging Rock (Mt Diogenes) in Australia.]
* [http://www.martindalehall.com Official website of Martindale Hall, the location used as Appleyard College.]
*imdb title|id=0073540|title=Picnic at Hanging Rock
* [http://rogerebert.suntimes.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/19980802/REVIEWS08/401010325/1023 Review by film critic Roger Ebert]
* [http://www.hangingrock.info/picnic/weir/weir.html Film page at the Hanging Rock website]
* [http://www.bookmice.net/darkchilde/rock/rockxxf.html Fan summary of "The Murders at Hanging Rock"]
* [http://www.criterion.com/asp/release.asp?id=29&eid=47&section=essay Criterion Collection essay by Vincent Canby]
* [http://colsearch.nfsa.afc.gov.au/nfsa/search/display/display.w3p;adv=yes;group=;groupequals=;holdingType=;page=0;parentid=;query=Number%3A3;querytype=;rec=0;resCount=10 Picnic at Hanging Rock at the National Film and Sound Archive]
* [http://www.afc.gov.au/filmsandawards/filmdbsearch.aspx?view=title&title=PICNIA&keyword=picnic+&area=all&type=all&year=all Australian Film Commission]
* [http://theultimatepicnicathangingrockforum.yuku.com/ The Picnic at Hanging Rock Forum]
* [http://wwwmcc.murdoch.edu.au/ReadingRoom/film/dbase/1997/ellis.htm Murdoch University Reading Room]
* [http://picnicathangingrock.homestead.com/Homepage.html Catherine's Picnic at Hanging Rock Homestead]
* [http://ftvdb.bfi.org.uk/sift/title/46413 British Film Institute]
* [http://mitglied.lycos.de/Picnic/ German Fan Site]
* [http://www10.pair.com/crazydv/weir/picnic/ Crazy Dave's Fansite]
* [http://movies.nytimes.com/movie/38084/Picnic-At-Hanging-Rock/overview The New York Times]
* [http://www.urbancinefile.com.au/home/view.asp?a=3058&s=Interviews Urban Cinefile interview with Pat Lovell]

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