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Set in 1900 and based on the novel by Joan Lindsay, Picnic at Hanging Rock tells the story of an ill-fated outing undertaken by Australian schoolgirls enrolled at an exclusive finishing school. Students of Appleyard College are permitted to spend Valentine's Day at Hanging Rock, collecting information for an essay to be written upon their return. After being granted permission by their French mistress, Miranda, Marion, Irma and Edith set off to explore the upper slopes of the rock. Wandering through the maze-like tunnels, Edith discovers that the others appear to have fallen into a trance; the trio have, as one, removed their shoes and stockings, and proceed to drift into another narrow passage. Fearful, Edith runs back to fetch help, Mathematics mistress Miss McCraw heading up to fetch them. However, teacher and students disappear without a trace.

The film features visually hypnotic photography by Oscar winner Russel Boyd and a haunting score by Bruce Smeaton, and established Director Peter Weir as a major International talent.

Tropes used in Picnic at Hanging Rock include:

  • Based on a Great Big Lie: It's almost guaranteed that anytime the film/book is brought up/read/watched, someone's going to claim it actually happened.
  • Beauty Equals Goodness: Miranda and Mlle. de Poitiers.
  • Being Watched: By Hanging Rock itself.
  • Bloodless Carnage: After a suicide by jumping off the roof and smashing through the greenhouse face and body appear far as we can tell.
  • Boarding School
  • Bury Your Gays
  • Clock King: Mrs. Appleyard is associated with clocks and watches throughout.
  • Con Artist: Mrs. Appleyard (explicitly so in the novel, hinted at in the film).
  • Cultural Cringe: The whole point of the boarding school is to train the girls to behave like proper English ladies.
  • Don't Go in The Woods
  • Don't You Dare Pity Me!: Sara and Minnie.
  • Downer Ending: Besides Miss McGraw, Marion, and Miranda vanishing forever, there's more.
  • Fake Nationality: Helen Morse (English) as Mlle. de Poitiers (French).
  • Genius Loci: Hanging Rock. Maybe.
  • Hair of Gold: Miranda.
  • Ho Yay: Michael and Albert spend a lot of time together in the book, drinking together in the nude and thinking about each other affectionately, even though they're not shown to have a sexual relationship. Albert seems very concerned when Irma begins to show interest in Michael, while Michael himself actively avoids her, despite finding her beautiful. They even end up going on a holiday together! None of this is touched upon in the film, however.
  • Jerkass: Mrs. Appleyard.
    • The novel's Miss Lumley is none too pleasant either.
  • Karmic Death: Mrs. Appleyard and, in the novel,Miss Lumley.
  • Kick Them While They Are Down: Sara is badly depressed after Miranda's disappearance, so Mrs. Appleyard decides that now would be a good time to send her back to the orphanage.
  • Les Yay
  • Long Lost Sibling: Sara and Albert.
  • Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: In the book, odd things happen with time during the picnic. No one's watch works correctly. Things take longer than they should or happen much more quickly than seems possible. None of it is so far out there that it is unrealistic, but it is just weird enough for the audience to consider the possibility that the supernatural may have been involved in the girls' disappearance. This is pushed firmly into supernatural territory by The Secret of Hanging Rock, as summarized here.
  • Nervous Wreck: Miss Lumley.
  • Never Found the Body
  • Non-Singing Voice: Or, in this case, non-speaking voice. All of Edith's dialogue was dubbed.
  • Not So Stoic: Mrs. Appleyard sets an example of perfect self-control, until she doesn't.
  • One-Gender School
  • Orphan's Ordeal: Sara.
  • Re Cut: Weir's director's cut removes a few scenes.
  • Revised Ending: The novel's final chapter was deleted, then published separately in 1987 as The Secret of Hanging Rock.
    • And if you thought the story was a Mind Screw before...
  • Romantic Two-Girl Friendship: the film opens with the schoolgirls exchanging passionate valentines.
    • Sara has a very obvious crush on Miranda, but it doesn't appear to be returned (although Miranda feels genuinely sorry for her).
    • Note that this isn't necessarily because Miranda's straight or doesn't care for Sara, it's at least partly because Miranda somehow knows she's going to disappear.
  • Scenery Porn
  • Sole Survivor
  • Suicide Is Painless: Sara walks a fine line between this and Driven to Suicide.
  • The Ditz: Edith (not a very nice one, either).
  • The Stoic: Miss McCraw.
  • The Film of the Book
  • Too Good for This Sinful Earth: One theory regarding the reason some people disappeared and some didn't.
  • Trauma-Induced Amnesia: Poor, poor Irma.
  • Villainous Breakdown: Keep your eye on Mrs. Appleyard's drinking habits, along with her hair.
  • What Do You Mean Its Not Symbolic
  • Woman in White: All of the girls wear pure white dresses...except for Sara.
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