With the hyperbolic miniseries adaptation of Joan Lindsay’s celebrated novel currently in first run, our first Summer Movie Review of July 2018 looks back to 1975, and Peter Weir’s handling of the same material. Critics widely hail Picnic at Hanging Rock as a defining moment in Australian cinema. How does the film, a sort of Merchant Ivory meets The Twilight Zone, play more than 42 years later?

Title: Picnic at Hanging Rock

Cast, Crew, and Other Info:

Director: Peter Weir
Writers: Cliff Green from the novel by Joan Lindsay

Rachel Roberts as Mrs. Appleyard
Vivean Gray as Miss McCraw
Helen Morse as Mlle. de Poitiers
Anne-Louise Lambert as Miranda
Karen Robson as Irma
Jane Vallis as Marion
Christine Schuler as Edith
Margaret Nelson as Sara
Kirsty Child as Miss Lumley
Tony Llewellyn-Jones as Tom
Jacki Weaver as Minnie
Frank Gunnell as Mr. Whitehead
Ingrid Mason as Rosamund
Jenny Lovell as Blanche
Janet Murray as Juliana
Wyn Roberts as Sgt. Bumpher
Kay Taylor as Mrs. Bumpher
Garry McDonald as Const. Jones
Martin Vaughan as Ben Hussey
John Fegan as Doc. McKenzie
Peter Collingwood as Col. Fitzhubert
Olga Dickie as Mrs. Fitzhubert

This film may be viewed at Amazon Instant Video.

Premise:

In 1900, three Aussie schoolgirls and one teacher vanish during an expedition to Hanging Rock.

High Point:

The movie makes powerful use of suggestion. As in the novel, we have tantalizing hints at the influence of any number of things: sexual attractions and repression, supernatural forces, and the nature of time. The media has since served up many fictional mysteries with no intended solution, and I’ve always found that approach, from Twin Peaks to Lost, loses me, no matter how aesthetically impressive the journey. In Picnic at Hanging Rock, the lack of closure actually works.

Low Point:

I have no significant problem with the film, but there is no question the second half moves at quite a slow pace.

The Scores:

Originality: 3/6 We’re watching an adaptation of a novel, and one gimmick—the suggestion that we’re watching a true story—had grown old by ’75.

Effects: 4/6 The visual qualities of this film amount to a special effect. The shots of Hanging Rock invest the edifice with a disorienting life. It watches and judges the characters. Of course, other, more earthly, voyeurs may be watching as well.

The filmmakers used a number of techniques, including shooting scenes through various weddings veil, and dubbing some of the key girls with voice actors (And while I can find no reference to it online, the penultimate scene appears to be shot with modern stock in a vintage movie-camera). The resulting film appears to have been filtered through someone’s troubled dreams or memories.

Story: 5/6 The film, like the published book, declines to offer a final explanation. Lindsay’s missing chapter, published after her death, gives an explanation. We have a puzzle we’re meant to explore, and it is to the filmmakers’ credit that they make such a tale work.

Acting: 5/6

Production: 6/6

Emotional Response: 5/6

Overall: 5/6

In total, Picnic at Hanging Rock receives 33/42.