Friday, May 05, 2017

Picnic at Hanging Rock

Based on the novel by Joan Lindsay, Picnic at Hanging Rock is the story of schoolgirls and their teacher having a picnic at the geological formation known as Hanging Rock in the Victoria state of Australia where several of them don’t return. Directed by Peter Weir and screenplay by Cliff Green, the film is about an event on Valentine’s Day 1900 where a community is rocked by this event. Starring Anne-Louise Lambert, Helen Morse, Rachel Roberts, Vivean Gray, Jacki Weaver, and Dominic Guard. Picnic at Hanging Rock is an evocative and haunting film by Peter Weir.

The film revolves around a simple picnic near the geological formation of Hanging Rock where a trio of schoolgirls from an all-girl’s college and a teacher of theirs suddenly disappear as a town and the school try to figure out what happened. It’s a film with a simple story about a disappearance on a day where nothing could go wrong yet many wonder what happened as one of the missing is eventually found as she has no idea what happened. Cliff Green’s screenplay starts off with the day of the event as it plays as if it was a normal day where a group of girls go to have a picnic with one of them being forced stay at the school due to her behavior. During this picnic, three of the girls in Miranda (Anne-Louis Lambert), Irma (Karen Robson), and Marion (Jane Vallis) would explore Hanging Rock with another classmate in Edith (Christine Schuler) who would return from the exploration screaming in horror as one of the school’s teachers in Miss Greta McCraw (Vivean Gray) would also disappear.

During this picnic, two young men in the young Englishman Michael Fitzhubert (Dominic Guard) and his valet Albert (John Jarratt) would notice the four girls crossing the creek before the disappearance as Michael becomes obsessed in Miranda whom he’s enchanted by as he would go on a search of his own where Albert would later make a chilling discovery. The script doesn’t just play into people baffled by this disappearance where a police sergeant and a constable try to figure out what happened where the local town is asking lots of question. The script also show how the disappearances of three girls and a teacher would change the environment of this all-girl’s college as students would leave as well as other things prompting a sense of change where its headmistress Mrs. Appleyard (Rachel Roberts) is dealing with the incident and the effect it’s had on the school.

Peter Weir’s direction is just ravishing in every sense of the word from the way he shoots everything on location at Hanging Rock as well as the Martindale Hall which plays the school and locations in Mintaro and parts of Adelaide. Weir’s usage of the wide shots would play into the beauty of these locations as well as create compositions that have this look and feel of a painting for a scene where the schoolgirls and their adult chaperones would be as Weir would have the actors in one part of the location and someone else in another part. It all plays into this quaint world of turn-of-the-century Australia where everyone is still trying to maintain certain etiquettes of the ways of the world yet these young girls are entranced by things that are new where three of them would go to Hanging Rock out of curiosity where they have no idea what they’re doing or getting themselves into. There is a dream-like quality to these scenes where Weir’s usage of superimposed dissolves would help play into these strange things these young ladies encounter as well as what Michael would dream about which leads him to try and find the girls during the second act.

Weir would use some close-ups and medium shots for some of the intimate moments as it relates to the environment of the school from Sara becoming more troublesome as she copes with losing her friend Miranda to Mrs. Appleyard losing students at the school. The direction has Weir showcase a growing sense of decline of 19th Century values and etiquette for something that is new as there’s a scene in the third act of people picnicking and doing other activities at Hanging Rock while still continuing to do the search. Even in scenes where the police sergeant is forced to close the door at his home because has no answers where it does have this sense of changing times where there are no answers for why three people disappeared. Overall, Weir creates a rapturous yet eerie film about a school picnic that turns to tragedy following the disappearance of three schoolgirls and a teacher.

Cinematographer Russell Boyd does incredible work with the film’s very ravishing and gorgeous cinematography with its usage of natural lighting to play into the film’s dreamy tone for many of the daytime exteriors as well as some natural light for the scenes at night. Editor Max Lemon does brilliant work with the editing with its usage of jump-cuts, montages, and dissolves as it help play into the drama as well as some of the mystery that looms throughout the film. Art director David Copping does excellent work with the interior designs of the school as well as the home of the sergeant as well as the home of Michael’s uncle.

Costume designer Judith Dorsman does fantastic work with the look of the dresses of the girls and women as well as the clothes of the men including Michael’s suit. Sound recordist Don Connolly does superb work with the sound in capturing many of the natural elements as well as the chaos into people’s reaction over what happened. The film’s music by Bruce Smeaton with pan flute music by Gheorghe Zamfir is amazing for its mesmerizing score with Smeaton’s music largely consisting of eerie piano and orchestral strings with Zamfir’s music creating some dream-like themes for the girls.

The film’s wonderful cast feature some notable small roles from Peter Collingwood and Olga Dickie in their respective roles as Michael’s uncle and aunt, Tony Llewellyn-Jones as gardener, Frank Gunnell as the head gardener, John Fegan as a doctor, Garry McDonald as the police constable, Wyn Roberts as the local police sergeant, Christine Schuler as the student Edith who would join the girls in exploring Hanging Rock only to be scared, and Jacki Weaver in a terrific performance as a young maid named Minnie who is concerned for the well-being of the students as well as Mrs. Appleyard. Kirsty Child and Vivean Gray are superb in their respective roles as the teachers in the prim and loyal Miss Lumley and the mathematics teacher Miss McCraw as the latter would suddenly disappear. Karen Robson and Jane Vallis are fantastic in their respective roles as Irma and Marion as two of the schoolgirls who would explore Hanging Rock and suddenly disappear. John Jarratt is terrific as the valet Albert as a local who is at first dismissive about what happened to the girls until he makes a chilling discovery as he also copes with his own troubles with his family.

Dominic Guard is excellent as Michael Fitzhubert as a young Englishman who is visiting relatives in Australia where he is entranced by one of the schoolgirls who had disappeared as he becomes obsessed in finding her. Margaret Nelson is brilliant as the troubled student Sara Waybourne as a young woman who is a close friend of Miranda as she has trouble fitting and meet the expectations of Mrs. Appleyard. Helen Morse is amazing as Mademoiselle de Poitiers as a young French teacher who is the most concerned as she tries to help the students anyway they can in coping with the disappearance as well as be aware that things won’t be the same. Rachel Roberts is remarkable as Mrs. Appleyard as a headmistress keen on maintaining some control and a stature of the school as she copes with the disappearance of three of her students and her best teacher as well as the emergence of change happening. Finally, there’s Anne-Louis Lambert in a radiant performance as Miranda as a student whose beauty entrances Michael as she is the most concerned about what she sees at Hanging Rock that would lead to her disappearance.

Picnic at Hanging Rock is a magnificent film from Peter Weir. Featuring a great ensemble cast, gorgeous visuals, a mesmerizing story, and a hypnotic score, the film is truly one of the finest stories about disappearances and its effects on a school and a community. In the end, Picnic at Hanging Rock is an outstanding film from Peter Weir.

Peter Weir Films: (3 to Go-Michael) – (Homesdale) – (Whatever Happened to Green Valley?) - (The Car That Ate Paris) – (The Last Wave) – The Plumber (1979 TV film) - GallipoliThe Year of Living Dangerously – (Witness) – (Mosquito Coast) – Dead Poets Society - (Green Card) – (Fearless) – (The Truman Show) – Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World - The Way Back

© thevoid99 2017


joel65913 said...

Since the film is told in such a measured and languid way I can see how it might not be for everyone but those who have the patience are richly rewarded with a unique and compelling experience.

I saw this on its initial release and never forgot how hypnotic it was sitting in that darkened theatre while this extraordinary picture unwound. SO beautiful to the eye and that creeping eerieness. Everyone was good but Rachel Roberts's performance is the one that stayed with me.

I've read there are plans in the works to make some sort of serialized show based on the story. My only question is WHY!!!!!!!!!!????????? They'll never be able to improve on this.

Unknown said...

This film has haunted me for years. It's ambiguity is tantalizing and every time I watch it I try to figure out what happened and never get any closer than I did last time but that's okay. It's part of what keeps me coming back to it. I also love unrelenting ominous mood and atmosphere, esp. when we get to the rock and revisit it again and again. Incredible.

thevoid99 said...

@joel65913-I like films that take its time to tell a story as I'm just amazed how it would unfold very slowly. I heard about a TV remake of it and yeah, why do we need it?

@J.D. Lafrance-It's one of those films that will always stick with you as I like those films that leave things out in the open.