Directed By: Peter Weir
Starring: Rachel Roberts, Anne-Louise Lambert, Vivean Gray
Tag line: "A recollection of evil"
Trivia: Executive producer Patricia Lovell admits to being genuinely afraid of Hanging Rock. In an interview she explained that she has only gone back to Hanging Rock once since the shooting
For years, I was a bit hazy as to whether or not Peter Weir’s 1975 film Picnic at Hanging Rock was based on an actual event (turns out it wasn’t; while Hanging Rock itself is a very real locale in Victoria, Australia, the story is a complete fabrication). But then, a picture as hauntingly mysterious as this one practically invites such ambiguity. As gorgeous as it is bewildering, Picnic at Hanging Rock is a movie you’re destined to think about for days afterwards.
Valentine’s Day, 1900. A group of girls from Appleyard College head to Hanging Rock, a geological formation situated near Victoria’s Mount Macedon, for a picnic. Chaperoned by two of their teachers, Miss McCraw (Vivean Gray) and Mademoiselle de Poitiers (Helen Morse), the girls enjoy what appears to be a peaceful day in the country. But their quiet afternoon takes a dark turn when three students, Miranda (Anne-Louise Lambert), Marion (Jane Vallis), and Irma (Karen Robson), as well as Miss McCraw, disappear without a trace.
As the police, led by Sgt. Bumpher (Wyn Roberts), carry out their investigation, the college’s headmistress, Mrs. Appleyard (Rachel Roberts), struggles to keep her school afloat amid all the bad publicity. The police fail to turn up any clues and abandon their search, at which point young Michael Fitzhubert (Dominic Guard), who was picnicking in the area at the same time and was the last person to see the girls before their disappearance, feels compelled to take matters into his own hands. With the help of his family’s servant Albert (John Jarratt), he attempts to solve this puzzling case, and what he finds during his time at Hanging Rock will shock not only the local authorities, but all of Australia as well.
Throughout the movie, director Peter Weir weaves an aura of mystery around Hanging Rock; along with a few strange occurrences (during the picnic, both Miss McCraw and Mr. Hussey, who drove the cart that brought the girls to the area, notice their watches stopped at exactly noontime), he shoots the formation in such a way as to make it look very foreboding (in several scenes, he places his camera down low, giving the illusion that the rock is towering over his characters). As a result, we feel a bit uneasy whenever the action switches back to this seemingly menacing locale; when Michael Fitzhubert, determined to find the girls, decides to spend the night at Hanging Rock, we fear for his safety and wonder if we’ll ever see him again. Along with introducing a sense of dread into the proceedings, this also adds a supernatural element to the movie that makes its central mystery all the more perplexing.
A beautiful, well-acted motion picture that will have you turning its story over and over again in your head, Picnic at Hanging Rock is one of the seminal Australian films of the 1970's and, in my opinion, ranks among the greatest the continent ever produced.