Written by Hannah Dunleavy


Rated or Dated: Picnic at Hanging Rock

Standard Issue writers are revisiting a film/book/TV series to see if it’s stood the test of time. This week, Hannah Dunleavy is trying not to think too hard about why her parents let her watch this spooky hormone fest alone.

Scene from Picnic at Hanging RockWhat and why: Maisie Williams’ new film The Falling is the latest in a line of films to be compared to Peter Weir’s 1979 classic. It’s Valentine’s Day 1900 and on a girls’ boarding school outing three girls and Mrs Mangel from Neighbours disappear off the face of the earth. Everything gets a bit fraught.

Rated or dated: When I was in my early 20s, I went to visit the big house that ‘played’ the school in Picnic at Hanging Rock. It was miles out of our way. And this is Australia, so I mean miles out of our way. And man, it was hot in that car. When we got there it was completely covered in scaffolding but I had a photograph taken outside anyway. I’ve absolutely no idea what happened to it. (That’s my whole life in one anecdote right there.)

I first saw the film when I was about nine. Strangely, both my parents claim to have not seen it until very recently, so I can only assume I watched it alone. That’s probably a whole other story.

I was absolutely and completely taken by it. It was spooky as hell and contained a mystery with no solution, something I don’t suppose I’d ever seen before. That’s endless possibilities for a young girl with an overactive imagination. (Seriously, why was no one paying more attention to what I was watching?)

On second watching, I’m amazed that I even got that far. The first 20 minutes of young girls tripping round ethereally, talking about love, combined with close-up pictures of nature are all rather gorgeous now. But I’ve never heard a nine-year-old praise cinematography. And I live in Cambridge where I’ve seen a child crying because the peppers and hummus ran out. My other options that day must’ve been bleak. It certainly explains how I was able to sit through To the Wonder.

“It was spooky as hell and contained a mystery with no solution, something I don’t suppose I’d ever seen before.”

The second thing to strike me is how much it positively steams with repression and hormones, something the younger, still hoping they’ll be found three weeks later, me would’ve missed. The amassed energy becomes tangible – watches stop, clouds build (red ones no less) – and it all gets a bit hypnotic as a small group of girls starts wandering up Hanging Rock. (This has got to be the only time in film history that being the short round one lagging behind has paid off.)

The film thrives on it, like Sofia Coppola’s The Virgin Suicides, which it clearly influences and with which it shares the themes of lost girls and the male gaze.

The strangeness that kicks off after the disappearance is still genuinely unsettling. Rachel Roberts’ headmistress Mrs Appleyard is particularly effective, despite sporting hair that cannot be explained but which has the common decency to unravel as events take their toll.

The thing I found most startling was something I’d never even noticed the first time round (what was I playing at?). When Applegate goes to the room of poor, left-behind, love-sick, destitute Sarah and tells her she’s being taken to a children’s home the next day, a serene smile spreads across the girl’s face. She knows what she is going to do. And it’s horrible.

You know what, I was right: it is spooky as hell. Rated or Dated? Well rated, obviously. It’s all fricking gorgeous.


Standard Issue’s resident film reviewer Yosra Osman has reviewed The Falling; the film that inspired this rated or dated. Find out what she thought of it here: http://standardissuemagazine.com/arts/the-falling-a-tantalising-tale-of-mysterious-hysteria

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Written by Hannah Dunleavy

Hannah Dunleavy is the deputy editor of Standard Issue. She likes whisky and not having to run anywhere.