The Execution of Mary, Queen of Scots (1895)

 |  Short, History  |  August 1895 (USA)
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A short film depicting the execution of Mary, Queen of the Scots. Mary is brought to the execution block and made to kneel down with her neck over it. The executioner lifts his axe ready to... See full summary »


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A short film depicting the execution of Mary, Queen of the Scots. Mary is brought to the execution block and made to kneel down with her neck over it. The executioner lifts his axe ready to bring it down. After that frame Mary has been replaced by a dummy. The axe comes down and severs the head of the dummy from the body. The executioner picks up the head and shows it around for everyone else to see. One of the first 'camera tricks' to be used in a movie. Written by Sujit R. Varma

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Release Date:

August 1895 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

Execution  »

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1.33 : 1
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Did You Know?


The execution was so real to audiences that some believed a woman actually gave her life for the beheading scene. See more »


Featured in Edison: The Invention of the Movies (2005) See more »

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User Reviews

A short film of great importance...

1895 was a year of great importance in the history of cinema, the main reason for that is of course the beginning of the Lumière brothers' series of public showings of their movies. The brother's invention of the Cinematographe changed the way moving pictures were seen, as for the first time, images could be projected on a screen for an audience to see them, just like the theater. This event was a significant blow to Edison's Kinetoscope (then the most popular device used for watching moving pictures), as the Cinematographe offered a more comfortable experience when compared to the individual "peep show machine" of the Kinetoscope. In an attempt to save his invention, Edison hired Alfred Clark to make original films of a different subject matter to compete with the Cinematographe. The results were a series of representations of historical events, among them it was this movie, "The Execution of Mary Stuart, Queen of the Scots".

In its barely one minute of duration, "The Execution of Mary Stuart" presents a representation of the beheading of Mary I of Scotland (Robert Thomae), monarch of the kingdom of Scotland who was executed in 1587 because of her supposed participation in plots to assassinate the Queen of England, Elizabeth I. The strange circumstances surrounding her trial and execution have transformed the figure of Queen Mary into a legendary icon of a victim of political intrigues (some see her as a martyr), making her life an inspiration for many works of art, and this short movie represents the first time her story was portrayed in film. While historically inaccurate (the real Mary was beheaded with three blows, instead of one), the movie has a very haunting atmosphere that even today looks very realistic and solemn.

Despite having been made when Kinetoscope was in its last days, "The Execution of Mary Stuart" is a very important film for many different reasons. For starters, it was among the first movies to use trained actors, and the very first to have a man (Robert Thomae) playing a woman. Before Clark's historical movies, Kinetoscope's shorts were either moving pictures portraying everyday scenes (the Lumière would follow this format) or famous artists like Annie Oakley or Annabelle Moore performing their arts for the camera; Clark's movies changed this by having actors playing characters instead of themselves. While he didn't fully introduced theater's elements in his films (Georges Méliès and J. Searle Dawley would do that), his work was certainly groundbreaking as it was the seed of storytelling in films, and the beginning of the close relationship between theater and film.

Finally, Alfred Clark's movie introduced another interesting element to cinema that would become one of its most important features in its future years: film editing. In order to achieve a realistic beheading, Clark decided to use a simple cut to change from the actor to a dummy that could be beheaded without problem. While a very simple device (that in this modern age of effects looks painfully obvious), this meant the first use of the medium's properties to achieve an effect (that was considered so real that some thought a real person was being killed on screen). Later pioneers like Georges Méliès and Edwin S. Porter would further develop this trick in order to create their fantastic magic. Kinetoscope died shortly after the release of this film, but while it wasn't a very successful movie on its release, "The Execution of Mary Stuart" is definitely one of the most important movies of those early years of cinema. 7/10

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