Picnic at Hanging Rock is a 1975 Australian drama and mystery film directed by Peter Weir and starring Anne-Louise Lambert, Helen Morse, Rachel Roberts and Vivean Gray. The film was adapted by Cliff Green from the 1967 novel of the same name by Joan Lindsay.

The film relates the story of the disappearance of several schoolgirls and their teacher during a picnic to Hanging Rock on St. Valentine's Day in 1900, and the subsequent effect on the local community. Upon its release, Picnic at Hanging Rock became one of Australia's most well-known films, gaining a great deal of attention from American audiences.



At Appleyard College, a girls' private school, near the town of Woodend, Victoria, Australia, the students are dressing on the morning of St. Valentine's Day, 1900. Miranda (Anne-Louise Lambert), Irma (Karen Robson), Marion (Jane Vallis), Rosamund (Ingrid Mason), waifish Sara (Margaret Nelson), and outsider Edith (Christine Schuler) read poetry and Valentine's Day cards.

The group prepares for a picnic to a local geological formation known as Hanging Rock, accompanied by the mathematics mistress Miss Greta McCraw (Vivean Gray) and the young and beautiful Mademoiselle de Poitiers (Helen Morse). On the authority of the stern headmistress Mrs. Appleyard (Rachel Roberts), jittery teacher Miss Lumley (Kirsty Child) advises Sara that she is not allowed to attend.

Driven by buggy operator Ben Hussey (Martin Vaughan), the party pass through and arrive at the Rock by mid-afternoon. After a meal, Mr. Hussey notes his watch has stopped at the stroke of twelve, as has the watch of Miss McCraw. With permission from Mlle. de Poitiers, Miranda, Marion and Irma decide to explore Hanging Rock and take measurements, with Edith allowed to follow. The group is observed several minutes later by a young Englishman, Michael Fitzhubert (Dominic Guard), who is lunching at the Rock with his uncle Colonel Fitzhubert (Peter Collingwood), aunt Mrs. Fitzhubert (Olga Dickie), and valet Albert (John Jarratt). At the top of Hanging Rock, the group lies on the ground, apparently dazed by the sun. Miss McCraw, still at the base of the Rock, stares up. Miranda, Marion, and Irma awake and move, as if in a dream, into a recess in the rock face. Edith screams and flees down the Rock.

The distraught and hysterical party eventually returns to the College, where Mlle. de Poitiers explains to Mrs. Appleyard that Miss McCraw has been left behind. Sara notes the absence of Miranda; and Mr. Hussy explains to Mrs. Appleyard that Miranda, Irma, Marion, and Miss McCraw went missing. A search party, led by Sgt. Bumpher (Wyn Roberts) and Constable Jones (Garry McDonald) of the local police, finds nothing, although Edith reveals that she witnessed Miss McCraw climbing the Rock without her skirt. Michael Fitzhubert is questioned and reveals he watched the schoolgirls but can provide no clues as to their whereabouts.

Michael becomes obsessed with finding Miranda; and, with Albert, he conducts another search of Hanging Rock. Despite Albert's protests, Michael decides to remain overnight and begins climbing again the next day, leaving a trail of paper. When Albert follows the markers, he finds a nearly delirious Michael. Just before leaving on a buggy with a local doctor, Michael passes to Albert a fragment of lace from a dress. Albert returns to Hanging Rock and discovers Irma, unconscious but alive. The residents of Woodend become restless as news of the discovery spreads. At the Fitzhubert home, Irma is treated for dehydration and exposure, and tells the police and Mlle. de Poitiers she has no memory of what happened. A servant notes that Irma's corset is missing but is advised by Mrs. Fitzhubert that it is not important.

Michael befriends the recovered Irma but alienates her when he demands to know what happened on the Rock. Mrs. Appleyard advises Miss Lumley that several parents have withdrawn their children from the school. Before leaving for Europe, Irma visits her classmates a final time; but they become hysterical and demand to know what happened to their missing friends. Mlle. de Poitiers intervenes; and, as Irma flees, she also notices that Sara has been strapped to a wall by Mrs. Appleyard to correct her posture. That night, Miss Lumley gives notice to a drunken Mrs. Appleyard that she is resigning.

Mrs. Appleyard tells Sara that, as her guardian has not paid her tuition, Sara must return to the orphanage. The next day, Mrs. Appleyard lies to Mademoiselle de Poitiers and claims that Sara's guardian collected her early that morning. The next day, Sara's body is found in the greenhouse by Mr. Whitehead, the school gardener. Believing Sara committed suicide by leaping from her bedroom window, Whitehead confronts Mrs. Appleyard, who is calm in full mourning dress with her possessions packed. Michael tells Albert he has decided to travel north, with Albert revealing he had a dream in which his lost sister Sara visited him.

During a flashback to the picnic scene, Sgt. Bumpher states in a voice over that the body of Mrs. Appleyard was found at the base of Hanging Rock and that the search for the missing school girls and their mistress continued sporadically for several years without success.


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The book was first published in 1967 and Patricia Lovell first read it in 1971 and thought it would make a great film. She did not originally think of producing it herself until Phil Adams suggested she try it and she optioned the film rights in 1973, paying $100 for three months.[2] She hired Peter Weir to direct on the basis of Homesdale and Weir brought in Hal and Jim McElroy to help produce.[1]

Screenwriter David Williamson was originally chosen to adapt the film, but was unavailable and recommended noted TV writer Cliff Green.[3] Joan Lindsay had approval over who did the adaptation and she gave it to Green, whose first draft Lovell says was "excellent".[2]

The finalised budget was A$440,000, coming from the Australian Film Development Corporation, British Empire Films and the South Australian Film Corporation. $3,000 came from private investors.[2]

Filming began in February 1975 with principal photography taking six weeks.[4] Locations included Hanging Rock in Victora, Martindale Hall near Mintaro, and at the studio of the South Australian Film Corporation in Adelaide.

Director of photography Russell Boyd stated in interview that he created the ethereal look of the picnic by placing simple bridal veil fabric over the camera lens.[3]

Weir originally cast Ingrid Mason as Miranda, but realised after several weeks of rehearsals that it was "not working" and cast Anne-Louise Lambert. Mason was persuaded to remain in the role of a minor character by producer Patricia Lovell.[3] The role of Mrs Appleyard was originally to have been taken by Vivien Merchant; Merchant fell ill and Rachel Roberts was cast at short notice.[1] Several of the school girls' voices were dubbed in secrecy by professional voice actors. The voice actors were not credited, although actress Barbara Llewellyn revealed that she provided the voice for the role of Edith (Christine Schuler).[5]


The main title music was derived from two traditional Romanian panpipe pieces: "Doina: Sus Pe Culmea Dealului" and "Doina Lui Petru Unc" with Romanian Gheorghe Zamfir playing the panpipe (or panflute) and Swiss born Marcel Cellier the organ. Australian composer Bruce Smeaton also provided several original compositions written for the film.[3]

Other classical additions included Bach's Prelude No. 1 in C from The Well-Tempered Clavier; the Romance movement 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 "Emperor". Traditional British songs God Save the Queen and Men of Harlech also appear.

There is currently no official soundtrack commercially available. In 1976, CBS released a vinyl LP titled "A Theme from Picnic at Hanging Rock", a track of the same name and "Miranda's Theme". A 7" single was released in 1976 of the Picnic At Hanging Rock theme by the Nolan-Buddle Quartet.


Weir recalled that when the film was first screened in the United States, American audiences were disturbed by the fact that the mystery remained unsolved. According to Weir, "One distributor threw his coffee cup at the screen at the end of it, because he'd wasted two hours of his life—a mystery without a goddamn solution!"[3]

Despite this, the film was a critical success, with American film critic Roger Ebert called it "a film of haunting mystery and buried sexual hysteria" and remarked that it "employs two of the hallmarks of modern Australian films: beautiful cinematography and stories about the chasm between settlers from Europe and the mysteries of their ancient new home."[6]

Cliff Green stated in interview that "Writing the film and later through its production, did I—or anyone else—predict that it would become Australia's most loved movie? We always knew it was going to be good—but that good? How could we!"[4]

Picnic at Hanging Rock currently has an approval rating of 90% on Rotten Tomatoes.

Box office

Picnic at Hanging Rock grossed $5,120,000 in ticket sales in Australia.[7]



Picnic at Hanging Rock was first released on DVD in the Criterion Collection on 3 November 1998. This release featured a director's cut of the film with an entirely new transfer, a theatrical trailer, and liner notes regarding the film. That same year, the film was also re-released theatrically, with Weir removing seven minutes from the film that apparently detracted from the narrative.[3]

The film was later released in a special 3-disc set on 30 June 2008 in the United Kingdom. This set included the director's cut and a longer original version, interviews with filmmakers and book author Joan Lindsay, poster and still galleries, a 120 minute documentary and deleted scenes. It was released on Blu-ray by Australian distributor Umbrella Entertainment with a newly restored print, the feature length documentary A Dream Within A Dream, a 25 minute on-set documentary A Recollection: Hanging Rock 1900 and the theatrical trailer on 12 May 2010.[8] UK distributor Second Sights Films also released the film on Blu-ray on 26 July 2010.[9][10]


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 David Stratton, The Last New Wave: The Australian Film Revival, Angus & Robertson, 1980 p68-69
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 Scotty Murray & Antony I Ginanne, "Producing 'Picnic': Pat Lovell", Cinema Papers", March-April1976 p298-301
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 3.5 "A Dream Within a Dream": Documentary (120 min, Umbrella Entertainment, 2004)
  4. 4.0 4.1 "The Vault", Storyline, Australian Writers Guild, 2011, p. 68
  5. Bright Lights Cafe "Picnic at Hanging Rock - The Unseen Voices"
  6. Ebert, Roger (2 August 1998). "Picnic at Hanging Rock". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved 19 May 2010. 
  7. Australian Films at the Australian Box Office (PDF). Film Victoria. Retrieved on 22 July 2012.
  8. Picnic At Hanging Rock Blu-Ray. Umbrella Entertainment Website. Umbrella Entertainment. Retrieved on 7 June 2012.
  9. "Picnic At Hanging Rock - The Director's Cut [Blu-ray [1975]"]. Retrieved 14 August 2010. 
  10. Atanasov, Svet (14 August 2010). "Picnic at Hanging Rock Blu-ray". 

External links

Films directed by Peter Weir
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