Picnic at Hanging Rock - The
Few movies in Australian cinematic history have stood the test of
time to become as celebrated as "Picnic at Hanging Rock", let alone
generated the international cult film status Peter Weir’s 1975
classic has achieved.
Based on a novel of the same name written by Joan Lindsay
(1896-1984) it details the complex, interwoven lives of teachers and
students at Appleyard College, a posh turn of the century girls’
boarding school which is turned upside down by the baffling
disappearance of three girls and a teacher during a St Valentines
Day picnic in the shadow of the enigmatic Hanging Rock. The event
sends shockwaves of suspicion and anxiety through the local
community, who are unable to come to terms with events due to the
mysterious nature of the disappearances preventing closure. First
published in 1967 by F. W. Cheshire Ltd, it was a critical success
in its own right and has never been out of print since, selling well
over half a million copies world wide to date.
Miranda and More
After accepting the commission to make the film Peter Weir went in
search of actors who resembled his vision of characters in the book,
travelling as far as England to audition potential players such as
Rachel Roberts and Dominic Guard. In Australia he secured well
established actors like Helen Morse, Vivean Gray and Jacki Weaver.
He placed the angelic Anne Lambert in the central role of Miranda.
Although only in her late teens she had already proven herself as
one of the countries leading talents in a series of TV soaps.
With the all important central parts cast he conducted auditions
across Australia for young girls to fill the secondary role of the
school girls. Finding the professional young actors he auditioned
too modern and worldly looking, he went to great pains to find
unknowns who matched his perception of upper class girls of the
Victorian era as being unworldly and innocent. Their ability to act
irrelevant, he could tailor scenes to fit their individual
strengths. However using amateurs meant their dialogue had to be
kept to a bare minimum, looking pretty on camera eating cake.
Sitting to attention in a classroom or prancing down stairs in a
flowing muslin dress was one thing but delivering believable lines
is somewhere professionalism comes in and it was decided to dub the
voices of professional actors over those of the amateurs.
Whose Voice Is That?
Peter Weir was not new to the possibilities of post synchronisation,
his first major film, The Cars That Ate Paris (1974), had its
actors’ voices dubbed with those of Americans before distributors
would release it in the United States. So, faced with a small budget
already being stretched to its limits and tight shooting schedule,
dubbing over the voices of amateurs with those of trained
professionals made sense. From a professional standpoint it could
have been perceived as frivolous to go to such trouble to avoid
using professional actors because their appearance conflicted with
his mind’s eye image of characters. As a result, it was kept secret
for over 30 years, until now.
One moment which stands out in the recollections of all viewers is
the scene in which the pudgy, bespectacled school girl character
Edith played by novice actor Christine Schuler, seemingly perceives
evil. She cries out for the other three girls to stop their ascent
of the eerie rock formation before screaming and taking flight in
terror. It is a defining moment of the movie, conveying a sense of
horror and alarm which raises goose bumps. However viewers would be
surprised to know that this famous scream never emanated from
Christine Schuler’s lips. It was dubbed in afterwards by a trained
voice actor. Indeed every word of dialogue uttered in the movie by
Christine Schuler was dubbed, with the voice of actress Barbara
Barbara Llewellyn was born into show business. Her father John was
an actor and her mother owned and operated the top theatrical agency
in Sydney. At the age of five Barbara won The Jack Davey Radio Show
talent contest. Two years later she became an Australian icon by
starring in the now famous Aeroplane Jelly television commercial.
She mimed the well-known Aeroplane Jelly jingle and was ever after
identified as The Girl on the Swing.
Barbara’s childhood and early teenage years were filled with work in
commercials, documentaries, films such as The Sundowners and
theatre, including the original Sydney production of The Sound of
Music. At 17 she was accepted into NIDA (National Institute of
Dramatic Arts) and while there she performed in numerous stage
productions, graduating in 1971. She starred in Seven Little
Australians and was a regular in Class of ‘74 and Class of ‘75,
Young Ramsay, Matlock Police, The Box and other now classic
Australian TV shows.
For over 30 years her contribution to the success of Picnic at
Hanging Rock has gone unappreciated by movie fans, as has the fact
that other key moments of dialogue were voice overs. Even the
recently produced documentary celebrating the 30th anniversary of
the film credited with bringing about a renaissance in the
Australian film industry, went into the minutia of production, but
neither Peter Weir nor Christine Schuler, who were extensively
interviewed, made any mention of this important fact.
“Peter Weir chose most of Picnic’s school girls for their looks, not
their acting ability, knowing that he could dub in the right vocal
performance at a later stage,” Barbara Llewellyn said in her first
public statement on her secret role in the film . “The girl visually
portraying Edith was not a professional actress. Peter told me that
he chose her because she looked exactly as he wanted the character
of Edith to look. He was well aware throughout the entire filming
process that he would employ a professional actress to dub her vocal
“I actually post synced the entire performance of Christine Schuler,
the girl playing Edith, including the famous scream. Every word or
sound that comes out of the onscreen Edith’s mouth is my voice,”
Barbara Llewellyn continued. “I was also the voice of the girl
reciting the poem Shall I Compare Thee to a Summer’s Day, as well as
doing numerous other one-liners in background noise.”
Barbara was a well known actor at the time with an excellent
reputation for post synchronisation. She became a professional voice
artist in childhood and continues to do a large amount of voice work
today. Her voice quality is consistently described as nurturing and
soothing and her extensive character voice repertoire has been
utilised in children’s animation and audio series, radio plays and
“Peter Weir asked for me by name,” she recalls. “I didn’t have to
audition for the part, my agent June Cann handled all the details.
Another little known fact is that there were two other female voice
artists, beside myself, who dubbed other voices in the film.”
The dubbing of the school girl voices with those of professionally
trained actors was kept secret at the time.
”I don’t remember being given a script prior to the day of taping.
Considering the supreme secrecy surrounding the process, it’s
unlikely Peter would have considered that a good idea,” she
remembers. “Picnic had finished filming and, to a large extent, had
been edited. The voice work was done in a post sync facility in
Sydney in about four hours or so, maybe a bit longer. I would have
read the script, or rather my parts of the script, then memorised
them as we went along, syncing them with the prepared filmed pieces
(with the red line process) ensuring that my characterisation, words
and scream matched as perfectly as possible with the onscreen
actress. Peter Weir was in the booth directing the performance he
A Secret and a Mystery
”I am not sure about the names of the two other voice actors but I
think that one of the female voice artists was Rosalie Fletcher, a
well known voice over artist of the time. Everything was all very
hush-hush with Peter being very secretive, not wanting to tell me
who else had done voice work and also insisting that I not tell
anyone about the work I had done on the film. I did not have direct
contact with anyone but Peter Weir as I ‘did my bit’. I was only
allowed to read the script in Peter’s presence and was not given a
script to take home, all part of the hush-hush hype. I have no idea
who the other characters were who were dubbed. All I know is that at
least one of them was another major school girl character in the
film. It was mentioned that one of the other characters who was
dubbed had an even bigger on-screen role than the part I dubbed.”
It is interesting to speculate whether this explains why Margaret
Nelson, who played ill-fated Sara, has steadfast refused to take
part in cast reunions or discuss her popular performance in the
movie. Dropping out of the movie industry a number of years ago,
perhaps her performance was subjected to voice over and she has
That Famous Scream
For many movie fans a highpoint is Edith’s famous scream on the
Rock. Taping that famous scream is something Barbara recalls well.
“Peter Weir was in the booth with me during the entire process of
post synchronisation and I remember he was very happy after I did
the scream only about six or eight times.”
Barbara’s association with the movie was not only professional. She
was a close friend of star Anne Lambert and they had worked together
in Class of ‘74 and The Box while sharing a house. She had also been
flat mates with Ingrid Mason who had been initially chosen for the
part of Miranda before Peter Weir changed his mind, taking on the
secondary role of Rosamund in the movie instead.
Over 30 years have passed since the release of Picnic at Hanging
Rock and the use of voice actors for key scenes in the film has
remained a guarded secret until Barbara decided to tell her story.
Neither she nor the other voice actors used were given a credit in
the movie or invited to the premier.
“I was going to complain to Equity about that at the time but my
agent said not to create any waves. It’s only in recent years that
I’ve decided to proclaim the reality of the situation.”
“I must admit to being somewhat dumbfounded to hear that the woman
who was the visual part of Edith took full credit for the
character,” she continued, “but maybe Peter never told her the truth
and she has somehow convinced herself that my voice was actually her
own. I truly thought that Peter would, at some stage, do the
honourable thing and let the world know that he had dubbed certain
characters in the film but he has continued to conceal the truth,
goodness knows why. Considering the amount of time gone by since
that secret was created and that Peter did not give credit to the
actresses who helped make his film a success, I believe myself
relieved of any need to continue the illusion.”
It disappoints Barbara that there’s no industry rule that voice
actors be acknowledged for their work in Australia, unlike the US
where credit must be given, according to local industry union ‘The
Media, Entertainment & Arts Alliance’ if a producer has a desire to
keep their work secret it can be stipulated before an actor is hired
as a condition of employment.
This is something Barbara would like to see changed, not for
herself, but for the other actors whose vocal performances have
helped make movies successful. Although at this point in time the
fact that actors like Barbara are not acknowledged for their
contribution to movies and others take the credit for their work
seems very unfair, the fact that the iconic scream in Picnic at
Hanging Rock was another actor’s voice dubbed in is an important
detail for film historians to know.
Now and Then
Barbara Llewellyn lives in Queensland with her husband Rod Kirkham.
As a child he was one of the six original cast members of Young
Talent Time and went on to become an actor in his own right. Rod and
Barbara met on the set of The Box where they became a couple,
marrying in 1978.
Barbara is the director of Bright Light Multimedia and continues
writing, performing and publishing. She writes songs with a special
focus, at the moment children’s lullabies, and maintains her Bright
Light Café website to which she is looking at adding an online radio
channel to further promote her work and those of her stable of
authors. She has also written a novel about life after death titled
Letters to Michael, which is the first in her series on that
Production of Picnic at Hanging Rock began at Hanging Rock, 50
kilometres North West of Melbourne, on 2nd February 1975 . Due to
funding arrangements it was filmed in Victoria and South Australia
and the shooting schedule was an amazing six weeks and was brought
in for around $450,000. The rights to the novel were secured by
executive producer Patricia Lovell in 1973 and it required a long
hard slog by her to get the movie made. It premiered at the Hindley
Cinema in Adelaide on the 8th August 1975 and was an instant
critical and commercial success launching Peter Weir on the world
"Hello, okay? first I would
like to congratulate you for the article cork the film "Picnic
at Hanging Rock" and also like to take and try to take a
question: you know something about the actress Margaret Nelson,
today? a big hug."
Rodrigo, for your applause. Unfortunately, neither Mr Godl nor
Ms Llewellyn have any information about Margaret Nelson who
portrayed Sara in Picnic at Hanging Rock.
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