Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975) – Film Review
Director: Peter Weir
Cast: Rachel Roberts, Anne-Louise Lambert, Vivean Gray
By Sarah Morgan
Has there ever been a more mesmeric, mystifying or, frankly, dream-like movie as Picnic at Hanging Rock?
It’s really quite extraordinary, something pretty much unique, a real standout at a time when Australian New Wave cinema was at its peak.
Director Peter Weir was one of the movement’s leading lights, having previously written and produced Homesdale and The Cars That Ate Paris. He’d go on to further success with The Last Wave and Gallipoli before heading to Hollywood for The Year of Living Dangerously, Witness, Dead Poets Society and The Truman Show. His retirement in 2010 has certainly been a major loss to the film world.
Although Brit Nicolas Roeg made the brilliant Walkabout in 1970, proving it is possible to be a non-Aussie and still create a good movie Down Under, you can’t imagine anybody but a true Australian making a success of the big-screen version of Joan Lindsay’s novel of the same name; it needs someone who truly understands the landscape – clearly Weir did.
Author Lindsay was an artist as well as a writer, so it’s fitting that Weir makes his film look like a glorious series of landscape paintings, perhaps by some long-forgotten 19th-century master.
The Wikipedia entry for the film describes it as a ‘mystery’, but it’s far more than that. There are elements of horror, drama and even a dash of the western thrown in here.
Set on Valentine’s day in 1900, it follows a party of girls from a private school near a small town in Victoria as they head out for the titular al fresco meal at Hanging Rock, an intriguing local geological formation. They’re instructed not to climb it, but despite supposedly being under the watchful eye of their teachers, a group of them do – and that’s the last time two of them, as well as the teacher who headed out to find them, are ever seen.
Frantic searches begin amidst tales of trance-like states and watches that stop mysteriously for no reason, but to no avail.
The traumatic event has a devastating impact on life back at the school; parents begin withdrawing their daughters from the place, while headteacher Mrs Appleyard slowly loses her grasp on reason, prompting her to venture to the rock herself…
Rachel Roberts – sporting the most outrageous hairdo of her career – is chillingly brilliant as Mrs Appleyard, a vindictive woman who, like many bullies before and since, falls apart when her authority is questioned.
Other familiar faces within the cast include Dominic Guard as a young Englishman who becomes obsessed with finding the girls, having spotted them heading for the rock while on his own day trip, and Vivean Gray, who will forever be best known as Neighbours’ battle-axe Mrs Mangel. Look out too for an early role for the now-Oscar-nominated star Jacki Weaver.
Completely bewitching in every possible way, Picnic at Hanging Rock is a haunting movie that, no matter how many times you see it, always seems to have something new to reveal. This 4K restoration is particularly stunning too, with a wealth of special features – including new and archive interviews and a documentary – which will boost its appeal among cinema connoisseurs.
● A new Second Sight Films 4K scan and restoration from the original camera negative supervised and approved by director Peter Weir and director of photography Russell Boyd
● Dual format 4 disc set featuring 2 UHDs and 2 Blu-rays
● UHDs presented in HDR
● Includes restorations of the Director’s Cut and original Theatrical Cut
● Audio commentary by film academics Alexandra Heller-Nicholas and Josh Nelson
● A Lovely Day for a Picnic: a new interview with actor Karen Robson
● Finding the Light: a new interview with director of photography Russell Boyd
● Crashing Through Boundaries: a new interview with camera operator John Seale
● Something Beyond Explanation: Thomas Caldwell on Picnic at Hanging Rock
● A Dream Within a Dream feature length documentary
● An interview with Joan Lindsay
● Recollection: Hanging Rock 1900
● Original long trailer
Limited Edition Contents:
● Rigid slipcase with new artwork by Thinh Dinh
● Soft cover book with new essays by Daniel Bird, Kat Ellinger and Justine Smith, archive essay by Rebecca Harkins-Cross, Costume Gallery, feature on the original marketing of the film and the new restoration
● The original novel with exclusive cover by Thinh Dinh
● Six collectors' art cards
Picnic at Hanging Rock is released on 4K UHD, Blu-ray & Standard Editions by Second Sight Films