Greatest Film Scenes
and Moments

Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975)


Written by Tim Dirks

Title Screen
Movie Title/Year and Scene Descriptions

Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975, Australia)

In Peter Weir's mystical, intriguing, and bewildering film about sexual repression, at a private girls' school in Australia that experienced an unsolved and puzzling mystery:

  • the pre-credits prologue: "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..."
  • the haunting voice-over by young boarding schoolgirl Miranda St. Clare (Anne Lambert) - a line paraphrased from Edgar Allan Poe's A Dream within a Dream: "What we see and what we seem are but a dream, a dream within a dream" - emphasizing the themes of voyeurism, peeping, repressiveness, gazing, coming-of-age, and dream worlds
  • the images of young nubile schoolgirls in their prim and constrictive white dresses and stockings - on Valentine's Day in the year 1900 during the Victorian-Edwardian-era in Australia - passing love notes to each other and preparing for an ill-fated journey with strict authoritarian headmistress Mrs. Appleyard (Rachel Roberts) (of Appleyard College) to Hanging Rock (near Woodend, Victoria) for a day's picnic - metaphorically entering into a primitive place of wild danger (similar to the passage into adult sexuality)
  • the ominous description of the day's outing by Mrs. Appleyard to the assembled girls (with hints of sexual, phallic danger and feminine crevices, openings and caves): "Once again let me remind you, the rock itself is extremely dangerous, and you are therefore forbidden any tomboy foolishness in the matter of exploration, even on the lower slopes. I also wish to remind you, the vicinity is reknowned for its venomous snakes and poisonous ants of various species. It is, however, a geological marvel, on which you will be required to write a brief essay on Monday morning. That is all. Have a pleasant day, and try to behave yourselves in a manner to bring credit to the College"
Pre-Picnic Warnings from Mrs. Appleyard
  • the sensual cinematography of the day's journey via a horse-drawn carriage driven by buggy-coachman driver Ben Hussey (Martin Vaughan), the girls' laughter, and the picnic conducted in the warm shade
  • an ominous occurrence: the watches of both Mr. Hussey and the young mathematics teacher Miss Greta McCraw (Vivean Gray) stopped at 12 noon - she remarked: "It stopped at twelve. It never stopped before. Must be something magnetic"
Math Teacher Miss Greta McCraw (Vivean Gray)
Miss McCraw's Watch
Stopped at Twelve Noon
  • the exploration of four girls (including pretty, angelic, ethereal and popular blonde Miranda (described by a teacher as "a Botticelli angel"), smart glasses-wearing Marion Quade (Jane Vallis), pretty Irma Leopold (Karen Robson), and whining, fat Edith (Christine Schuler)) among the menacing outcroppings and phallic-shaped forbidden volcanic rock crevices as they stripped away their layers of clothing before mysteriously disappearing in the foreign location
Four Girls Exploring Hanging Rock
  • the scream of lagging-behind Edith when she witnessed something at the moment of the three other girls' disappearance as they walked behind a rock face; only Edith returned, although hysterical and unable to describe what had transpired
  • the late-night report of the buggy driver Ben Hussey and Mme. de Poitiers to Mrs. Appleyard back at school about the three missing girls and Miss McCraw: "Madam, something terrible has happened....Three of your young ladies and uh - Miss McCraw are missing - on the rock....Nobody knows what happened"; later, Edith claimed she saw Miss McCraw heading up the rock formation without her skirt
"Madam, something terrible has happened"
"Nobody knows what happened"
  • the next day, a search party (with bloodhounds) at Hanging Rock resulted in Albert Crundall (John Jarratt) (who had lunched at the site the day the girls vanished) discovering Irma unconscious, and when she awoke, she had no recollection of what had happened ("I remember - nothing! Nothing! I remember nothing!"); she was found without her corset, shoes or stockings: ("Miss Irma's corset - it's missing!"); Doctor McKenzie (Jack Fegan) examined her for signs of molestation and reported: "She's quite intact" (i.e., an unbroken hymen)
  • the series of strange events surrounding the mysterious figure of Mrs. Appleyard, who was implicated in abusively threatening orphaned school girl Sara Waybourne (Margaret Nelson) to be thrown out of the school for her indebtedness ("This is not a charitable institution"), and strapping her to the wall to improve her posture; after the disappearance of the girls, parents began to withdraw their children from the school, she began drinking
  • the school gymnasium scene of the provocatively scarlet-dressed Irma, who was saying goodbye to her classmates (just before being removed from the school by her parents) and was mobbed by them for refusing to reveal the secrets at Hanging Rock that she had experienced
  • the assertion by Mrs. Appleyard that Sara had been taken away and returned to the orphanage, followed by the shocking discovery the next morning of the dead body of Sara; her bloodied body was below her 2nd floor bedroom window and had crashed through the roof of the greenhouse - was it a possible suicide?; after the discovery, Mrs. Appleyard (in black mourning clothes) was thought to have hurriedly packed up and quickly departed before she could be questioned
Sara's Body in Greenhouse
Mrs. Appleyard in Mourning
Miranda's Last Wave
  • afterwards, the final concluding narration about the incident: ("The body of Mrs. Arthur Appleyard, Principal of Appleyard College, was found at the base of Hanging Rock on Friday, the 27th of March 1900. Although the exact circumstances of her death are not known, it is believed she fell while attempting to climb the rock. The search for the missing school girls and their governess continued spasmodically for the next few years without success. To this day, their disappearance remains a mystery") - there was the slow-motion return to the picnic scene with Miranda waving goodbye and the freeze-frame of her turning her head away from the camera - during the film's final fade-out

Miranda (Anne Lambert)

The Corseted Schoolgirls on Valentine's Day, 1900

Constrictive White Dresses and Black Stockings

Carriage-Ride to Picnic at Hanging Rock

The Picnic

Chaperone Mme. de Poitiers (Helen Morse)

Rock Passageways

Peering Through Cave Opening

Edith's Last View of the Other Three Girls

Discovery of Unconscious Irma

Threats and Abusive Treatment Toward Sara by Strict Mrs. Appleyard

Irma Surrounded and Assaulted by Classmates


Greatest Scenes: Intro | What Makes a Great Scene? | Scenes: Quiz
Scenes: Film Titles A - H | Scenes: Film Titles I - R | Scenes: Film Titles S - Z