Directed by: Peter Weir
Screenplay by: Cliff Green
Based on the novel by: Joan Lindsay
Starring:  Rachel Roberts, Vivean Gray, Helen Morse, Kirsty Child, Tony Llewellyn-Jones, Jacki Weaver
Year: 1975
Country:  Australia
Running time: 115mins
BBFC Classification: 12

As with many film fans I maintain a wishlist of films I intend to watch – some of these are classics, some not so much but all are titles that have in some way piqued my personal interest. One of the privileges of writing for a site like Blueprint is that I often have the opportunity to tick a film off that list and, thanks to this new UHD release from Second Sight Films, I can finally do so for Peter Weir’s haunting 1975 drama, Picnic at Hanging Rock.

Based on Joan Lindsay’s 1967 novel, Picnic at Hanging Rock is a film which tells the story of the impact of the inexplicable on a small community – in this case, an all girls school in Australia and the people who live in the nearby town. While on a summers picnic, three of the girls and one of their teachers mysteriously vanish without a trace while exploring the formation of Hanging Rock; what follows is almost an exploration of character as we see how this event and its mystery affects child and adult alike, and how it seemingly begins to draw out some unsettling truths from the woodwork.

Picnic at Hanging Rock is a strange film to pigeonhole – on the surface it’s a period drama, set in the early 1900’s, yet there is a remarkable and subtle undertone of the supernatural not only with the concept of the mysterious vanishing, but also with events such as stopped clocks, loss of time and a suggestion early in the story that one of the disappeared girls, Miranda (Anne-Louise Lambert), has had a premonition that she will not return from the picnic. All of this adds up to a story with a sense of surface romanticism, but one which brings a sense of creeping dread, unease and isolation along for the ride.

It helps that Peter Weir has masterfully created a beautiful film here, aided by cinematographer Rusell Boyd. Frames are gorgeously composed with a clear eye for colour, allowing the girls white school uniforms to stand out against the bleached, dry landscapes. These uniforms also serve as an underpinning for the films themes of repressed sexuality, particularly in the visuals of the three missing girls discarding their gloves, tights and boots to venture into the inviting crevices of Hanging Rock, almost representative of a rite of passage to break the shackles of their restrictive school life.

The rock itself, as shot by Weir, is also as much of a character in this story as any of the humans – there’s a suggestion from passing dialogue that it is perhaps some place of ancient power, and the crags of the rockface frequently seem to take on human features as the light falls across them. This seemingly other worldly menace and a creeping sense of isolation has led to Picnic at Hanging Rock is often being considered adjacent to the cosmic horror subgenre. While there is arguably very little outward horror on display here, the ambiguity of the story and search for reason in the inexplicable certainly tick many boxes one would expect to find, and the film never really provides the viewer with any sense of closure on the events, leaving things open to interpretation.

The cast themselves help to sell the story with some recognisable faces in early roles present here, notably Vivean Grey who famously went on to play Mrs Mangel in hit Australian soap opera Neighbours, as well as a very young John Jarratt who much later found fame as the menacing Mick Taylor in the gruesome horror franchise Wolf Creek. Standout in the cast, however, is Rachel Roberts as the fierce headteacher of the school, Mrs Appleyard, a character who becomes a more central focus of the narrative as the story evolves. There’s an underlying tone of cruelty to Mrs Appleyard, as her apparent victimisation of some of the students emerges, and Roberts absolutely sells this with a powerful performance.

Fans of the film will be pleased with this new UHD release from Second Sight, with a newly cleaned up, remarkably clear picture that absolutely sells the cinematography and allows the detail to show clearly and pastel colours to shine alongside the more muted tones in the palette. Add to this a gorgeous sound restoration that allows the score from Bruce Smeaton and Gheorghe Zamfir to rise through the dialogue; it’s a superb arrangement that only adds to the mysticism of the film, full of whimsical pan flutes and chirruping, pulsing synths and is well worth hunting down on its own.

Bonus Features

  • A new Second Sight 4K restoration from the original camera negative supervised and approved by Director Peter Weir and Director of Photography Russell Boyd
  • Dual format 4 disc set featuring 2 UHDs and 2 Blu-rays both with bonus features
  • Includes restored versions of both Director’s Cut and original Theatrical Cut
  • UHDs presented in HDR
  • Audio Commentary by film academics Alexandra Heller-Nicholas and Josh Nelson
  • A Lovely Day for a Picnic: a new interview with Actor Karen Robson
  • Finding the Light: a new interview with Cinematographer Russell Boyd
  • Crashing Through Boundaries: a new interview Camera Operator John Seale
  • Something Beyond Explanation: Thomas Caldwell on Picnic at Hanging Rock
  • A Dream Within a Dream feature length documentary
  • An interview with author Joan Lindsay
  • A Recollection: Hanging Rock 1900
  • Outtakes
  • Original long trailer

Limited Edition Contents

  • Rigid slipcase with new artwork by Thinh Dinh
  • Soft cover book with new essays by Daniel Bird, Kat Ellinger and Justine Smith, archive essay by Rebecca Harkins-Cross, Costume Gallery and features on the original marketing of the film and the new restoration
  • The original novel with exclusive cover art by Thinh Dinh
  • 6 collectors’ art cards

Second Sight have produced an excellent set for fans and collectors, with a remarkable selection of special features from interviews, outtakes, essays and an in depth feature length documentary on the making of the film. Of particular interest is probably the inclusion of both cuts of the film. The main disc is the now standard Directors Cut, while the Theatrical Cut is present in the bonus materials – both have received the 4K upgrade treatment, but both present a subtly different viewing experience.

Similar to Ridley Scott’s Directors Cut version of Alien, Weir has decided to actually cut the film back, rather than adding significantly more material to it, resulting in a run time of 5 minutes shorter than the theatrical cut. In some ways, this adds far more ambiguity to some of the events of the story, however it also removes a great deal of the atmosphere by excising some of the more character driven scenes which provide some detail on how the locals view the rock and their thoughts on the disappearances. While these cuts do make for a tighter film, it’s arguable that the theatrical cut feels like a more complete story and it’s great that Second Sight have decided to include it on this release.

Picnic At Hanging Rock (Second Sight UHD)
5.0Overall Score
Reader Rating: (1 Vote)

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