Picnic at Hanging Rock

Released:  1975

Cast:  Rachel Roberts, Dominic Guard, Helen Morse, Anne-Louise Lambert, Margaret Nelson

SUMMARY:  On Valentine’s Day, 1900, the students of Appleyard College in Woodend, Victoria, Australia, are preparing to have a picnic near Hanging Rock.  At the last minute, one of the students, Sara (Margaret Nelson) is told that she is not permitted to attend on the authority of the headmistress Mrs. Appleyard (Rachel Roberts).  The other students are to be supervised by the math teacher, Miss McCraw, and the French teacher, Mlle de Poitiers (Helen Morse).  Before leaving the school, Mrs. Appleyard warns the girls to stay away from Hanging Rock, as it is unsteady and dangerous.  The girls and their chaperones take a carriage ride to their picnic site and have lunch.  Sometime in the afternoon, both the carriage driver and Miss McCraw notice that their watches have stopped at exactly twelve.  As many of the other girls take naps, four of them ask Mlle. de Poitiers if they can examine and explore the rock.  These girls, Miranda (Anne-Louise Lambert), Sara’s closest friend, Marion, Irma and Edith, are given permission, and set off together.  As they approach the rock the girls are noticed by Michael Fitzhubert (Dominic Guard), an Englishman visiting his aunt and uncle in Australia, and the family’s valet, Albert.  The girls stop for a few rests on their climb up the rock, and Edith begins to complain about the exertion; from the picnic site, Miss McCraw looks intently up at the rock.  When they rise again, Miranda, Marion and Irma head for a recess in the rock; Edith abruptly begins screaming and runs back to the other students.

Several hours later than scheduled, the girls return to the college.  When Mrs. Appleyard questions their lateness, Mlle. de Poitiers explains that Miss McCraw has been left behind at the rock; the carriage driver explains that Miranda, Marion, Irma and Miss McCraw all went missing.  The police are called and a search is launched on and around the rock, but nothing is found.  Edith, the last one to see the girls alive, reveals that she also saw Miss McCraw, climbing the rock without a skirt.  Michael Fitzhubert and Albert are also questioned, but can only speak of their brief glimpse of the girls.  Despite this, Michael becomes preoccupied with the disappearances, and ultimately decides to start his own search.  He persuades Albert to help him, but their search turns up nothing.  That evening, Albert returns home, but Michael stays on the rock, still searching.  He leaves a paper trail behind himself, which allows Albert to find him the next day — nearly catatonic on the rock.  Albert brings a doctor in, and gets Michael evacuated, but as he leaves Michael hands Albert a scrap of lace.  Albert rushes back onto the rock and follows Michael’s trail, and finds Irma, unconscious but alive, lying on the ground.  She is taken back to the Fitzhubert home to recover, but ultimately reveals that she cannot remember what happened to her, or to the others.  One of the servants in the house realizes that Irma was not wearing a corset when she was rescued, but is told by Mrs. Fitzhubert that this fact is unimportant.  Back at the school, Mrs. Appleyard is facing a catastrophe:  many of the girls’ parents have withdrawn their daughters for the next term.  In addition, Sara’s tuition (paid by a guardian, as she is an orphan) is grossly overdue.  Before the end of the term, Irma has recovered enough to visit the school, but the other girls nearly attack her, demanding to know what happened on the rock.  Mrs. Appleyard begins trying to drown her problems in the bottle.  The next day, she informs Sara that as her tuition is overdue, she will be sent back to the orphanage; later, she tells Mlle. de Poitiers that Sara was picked up by her guardian.  However, Sara is later found in the greenhouse, having apparently committed suicide by jumping from her bedroom window.  As the movie ends, a narration states that Mrs. Appleyard’s body was eventually found at the base of Hanging Rock; Miranda, Marion and Miss McCraw were never found, although searches continued for several years.

MY TAKE:  As previously stated, I hate ambiguous endings; the fact that this is a completely fictional story makes it even worse for me.  The movie is based on a novel of the same name — if you were going to write a book about a mysterious disappearance, why on earth wouldn’t you resolve that mystery?  It’s like the author just got tired of writing before figuring out how to really end things.  It would actually be better if it were a true story, because as irritating as it is, we know that there are some crimes that remain unsolved.  But this is a fake story!  Write a freaking ending!  It’s kind of hinted that there is a sexual component to the disappearances — Miss McCraw is seen missing her skirt, Irma is missing her corset — which I’m rather tempted to believe.  The doctor confirmed that Irma had not been assaulted, but it seems like there had to be an outside person involved, and a kidnapping would explain why no bodies were found.  Wouldn’t it be nice if somebody actually confirmed this.  What a crap ending.

Fun fact:  The college’s maid, Minnie (the one with the secret boyfriend) is played by Jacki Weaver, who was nominated for an Oscar for her performance as Bradley Cooper’s mom in Silver Linings Playbook.

RATING:  Interesting but infuriating.

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