One of my top ten favorite movies of all time is the 1975 eerie cult classic Picnic at Hanging Rock.
If you’ve never seen it, the movie follows students at Appleyard College for Girls in Australia on Valentine’s Day, 1900, along a day trip to a local geological marvel known as Hanging Rock. Intense, intertwined relationships are revealed between students and faculty. I’ll leave the real mysteries up to the film to portray, but eventually several girls and a beloved teacher go missing without a trace.
Picnic at Hanging Rock, directed by the masterful Peter Weir (he also directed The Truman Show, Dead Poets Society, Master and Commander), ran away with the 1976 BAFTA for ‘Best Cinematography,’ and deservedly so. There is an exceptional amount of tension building throughout the film, verging on hysterics at some points, and all emotions are heightened with excellent set design and cinematography.
I love how open to interpretation this movie is. There are all sorts of theories that Weir wanted to lead the audience to its own final conclusion about the school girl’s end.
The strange noises and dream-like delirium point directly toward alien abduction, or was it those two roguish young Brits looking for some sadistic mischief? Or did the young ladies simply fall to their demise down a rocky trench? All of that is up to you to decide.
Of course I have to mention the brilliant wardrobe of Picnic at Hanging Rock. It’s nothing too complicated, period appropriate school-girl dress: all-white frocks buttoned to the chin, complete with matching gloves. The most striking thing about the costume choice is that it evokes so much context within such a simple garment. The girls are young, pure, white, yet not untainted. They have struggles and serious emotions just like any of us, but these aspects of their lives are stifled by strict censorship, protocol, and social conditioning.
Even as the troupe of hikers climb further up the rock, their inhibitions lighten and they begin to remove parts of their ensembles. First their boots and stockings, hats and gloves. Eventually, Ms. McGraw, the last to disappear, is said to have been seen climbing the rock in only her undergarments.
The girl’s clothing also nods to the overwhelmingly feminine feel of the film. A dreamlike haze rests over the majority of the scenes; school girls languidly brushing their hair, pining over personal shrines, and generally traipsing about in a childish daze. Whether you think it’s creepy or cool, I drew up a style board inspired by the fashions of the young ladies at Appleyard College for Girls.