The Execution of Mary Queen of Scots (1895) Review

The Execution of Mary Queen of Scots (1895) Director: Alfred Clark


Sometimes called “The Execution of Mary Stuart” (1895), this brief clip is often cited as the earliest surviving example of cinematic special effects, or the ‘stop trick.’ The film lasts about 18 seconds and was produced by Thomas Edison. A male Shakespearean actor wound up playing the role of Mary Queen of Scots in the film. It shows her being led to the chopping block, but then the camera is cut before a mannequin body replacement and a dummy head is inserted and promptly chopped off. This early example of cinematic trickery shows us the importance of the editing process on the cutting room floor, as well as cinema’s fascination with the story of Mary Queen of Scots which has continued into the present day (Saoirse Ronan played Mary Queen of Scots in 2018).

Since the film is less than one minute in length and it is important merely for its place in the history of early cinema, I decided not to formally evaluate it. The quality of the surviving film is poor at best but it can be freely viewed by all on the internet.

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