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Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975)


“Picnic at Hanging Rock” is a 1975 Australian mystery film directed by Peter Weir.

It is a film adaptation of the novel of the same name (1967) by Joan Lindsay.

Set in 1900, at the end of the Victorian era (1837–1901) just before the establishment of the Commonwealth of Australia (1901), it depicts the mysterious disappearance of three schoolgirls and a teacher, who became missing during a picnic at Hanging Rock, a volcanic rock formation in Victoria, Australia.

Produced by Hal McElroy and Jim McElroy.

Screenplay by Cliff Green.

Starring Rachel Roberts, Dominic Guard, Helen Morse, Vivean Gray and Jacki Weaver.

Cinematography by Russell Boyd.

115 minutes.


On Saturday 14th February, 1900, a party of 19 students and two teachers of Appleyard College, a girls’ boarding school near the town of Woodend in Victoria, Australia, take a picnic in Hanging Rock.

Three of the students and one of their teachers become missing. One of the missing students is found later, but she has no memory of what happened. The other three are never found.

The disappearance case dramatically alters the lives of several students and school officials.

In the story of “Picnic at Hanging Rock”, the mystery of the disappearance remains unresolved.

The missing persons may have been involved in some kind of incident or accident, or they may appear to have been spirited away by supernatural forces. 

The film focuses on the psychological drama and tragedy of those left behind instead of solving the mystery of the disappearance.

The setting and story of “Picnic at Hanging Rock” imply a Freudian theme, i.e., sexual repression in Victorian society and its strict Christian culture.

Visually, the film is characterized by its fantastical imagery reminiscent of Impressionist paintings, which were shot by casting bridal veil fabric over camera lens. The shots capturing the sublime beauty of primitive natural landscapes in Australia are also impressive.

The film was filmed in Hanging Rock, Victoria, Strathalbyn and Clare, Marbury School South Australia, and South Australian Film Corporation Studios.

The film premiered in 1975 at the Hindley Cinema Complex in Adelaide. It was a commercial and critical success. It became one of the first major international successes of the Australian New Wave of cinema.

In 1998, Weir removed several scenes from the film for a theatrical re-release, creating a shorter 107-minute director’s cut.

In 2023, the Second Sight Films (UK) released the 4K restoration of the film on Ultra HD Blu-ray.

In 2024, the US Criterion Collection released the 4K restoration of the film on Ultra HD Blu-ray.

Picnic At Hanging Rock (1975) — HD Trailer (slightly re-edited)

Plot (Spoiler Alert)

The film begins with the following text:

“On Saturday 14th February 1900 a party of schoolgirls from Appleyard College picnicked at Hanging Rock near Mt, Macedon in the state of Victoria. During the afternoon several members of the party disappeared without trace…”

On 14th February (St. Valentine’s Day), 1900, the students of Appleyard College, a girls’ boarding school near the town of Woodend in Victoria, Australia, take a picnic in Hanging Rock, being led by math teacher Miss McCraw (Vivean Gray) and young French teacher Mademoiselle de Poitiers (Helen Morse). 

The school’s headmistress, Mrs Appleyard (Rachel Roberts) forces a student named Sara (Margaret Nelson) to remain in school instead of going on a picnic.

Sara is a wannabe poet and a rebellious girl. Mrs Appleyard instructs Sara to learn a poem by English poet Felicia Hemans by heart, but Sara refuses.

Sara is a girl from an orphanage. She has parted and lost contact with her brother Albert.

Sara’s guardian has fallen behind on her tuition fee.

Sara’s elder roommate Miranda (Anne Lambert) is her one and only friend.

Coachman Hussey operates a carriage and takes the party to Hanging Rock.

With permission from Mlle. de Poitiers, Miranda and classmates Irma (Karen Robson), Marion (Jane Vallis) and Edith (Christine Schuler) explore the rock formation.

A young Englishman, Michael (Dominic Guard), who is a nephew of Colonel Fitzhubert, and his friend Albert (John Jarratt), who is a coachman for the Fitzhubert family, witness the four girls crossing a creek. Michael is enchanted by the beauty of Miranda.

Miranda, Irma and Marion enter into a crevice like being sucked into it, leaving Edith. Edith screams and escapes in terror.

The party returns to the college late in the night. Hussey tells Mrs. Appleyard that three students and Miss McCraw became missing.

Sgt. Bumpher (Wynn Roberts) leads the local police and citizens and starts searching for missing persons the next day, but they find no trace of them.

Michael is questioned by police and he tells that he witnessed the schoolgirls crossing a creek.

Edith tells Mlle. de Poitiers and Sgt. Bumpher that she witnessed Miss McCraw going up the hill wearing only drawers and without a skirt.

Michael becomes obsessed with a vision of Miranda. He searches Miranda in Hanging Rock along with Albert, but he finds no clue.

Michael remains alone in Hanging Rock overnight and keeps searching the next day too.

Albert finds Michael lying in the rock. Michael is taken away in a carriage. Michael passes Albert a fragment of lace, which seems like a scrap of underclothing.

Albert discovers Irma lying in the rock. She is unconscious but alive.

Irma is examined by a doctor at the Fitzhubert home. She sustains minor injuries, but she is almost completely intact. A servant girl notes that Irma’s corset is missing.

Mrs Appleyard is frustrated by the missing persons case devastating the school’s reputation and causing several parents to withdraw their children. She gradually begins to lose her mental balance.

Sara is heartbroken at the loss of her best friend Miranda.

Mrs Appleyard tells Sara that she has to leave school and to go back to the institution unless her outstanding fees are paid by Easter.

Sara tells school’s maid Minnie (Jacki Weaver) that she had been in an orphanage with her brother.

Irma comes to herself. She tells the police and Mlle. de Poitiers that she has no memory of what happened.

In the town, a notice is put up and it says that Miranda, Marion and Miss McCraw were presumed dead.

Irma is going to leave the school to join her parents in Europe.

Irma comes to the classroom to bid farewell to her classmates during an exercise class.

Her classmates press Irma to tell what happened on the rock. They start crying out and go into a panic.

Mlle. de Poitiers finds Sara in the corner of the classroom. Sara is strapped by Mrs. Appleyard to a posture correction board.

That night, Mrs Appleyard tells Sara that she will be returned to the institution because her guardian has still not paid her tuition fee.

The next day, Albert tells Michael that he had a dream in which his long-missing sister Sara visited him.

Sara leaps to her death from the school’s rooftop. Her body is found by the school gardener in a small greenhouse.

The film ends with the following narration by Sgt. Bumpher.

“The body of Mrs Arthur Appleyard, principal of Appleyard College, was found at the base of Hanging Rock on Friday 27th March, 1900.

Although the exact circumstances of her death are not known, it is believed she fell while attempting to climb the rock.

A search for the missing schoolgirls and their governess continued spasmodically for the next few years without success.

To this day, their disappearance remains a mystery.”