The Execution of Mary, Queen of Scots (1895)
Director: Alfred Clark
Cast: Robert Thomae
Synopsis: A short film depicting the execution of Mary, Queen of the Scots.
Given that early cinema audiences were reputed to have been panicked by a shot of a train pulling into a railway station because they thought it might somehow burst through the screen and mow them down, we can only imagine what kind of conniptions they might have had over the Edison studios’ early trick photography movie The Execution of Mary, Queen of Scots.
It’s a short film, no more than 17 seconds — at least, in the form in which it survives today; perhaps it was longer when first made — and is composed of just one scene in which we see Mary Stuart approach the chopping block on which she is to be beheaded. Kneeling in front of the block, she places her neck on it, and it’s at this point that the camera stopped shooting long enough for the actor playing Mary — it was a man named Robert Thomae — to be replaced by a dummy. The substitution is painfully obvious today, but it must have been a shock to new filmgoers who had no idea of the trickery the camera was already able to play on them.
(Reviewed 23rd July 2014)