The Ballad of Tam Lin – Movie News |


Roddy McDowall (director)

The reverse of the BFI (studio)

15 (certificate)

107 minutes (length)

October 10, 2022 (published)

8 p.m.

Based on an ancient Scottish folk poem, the rather obscure THE BALLAD OF TAM LIN marked actor Roddy McDowall’s only feature film and is a “love letter” to his dear friend, Ava Gardner, who took on the female lead role as a witch in her forties. whose fate captures fashion photographer Ian McShane before he falls under the virginal spell of a vicar’s daughter… was made in 1969), this hallucinogen-induced modern take on the old tale is a veritable slow-burn whose supernatural elements only come into full force during the film’s tense climax.

Anyone familiar with this poem set on the Scottish border, where it was also filmed, knows that the ‘ballad’ has seen many versions over the centuries – most notably, perhaps, it was adapted by Scotland’s most famous bard, Robert Burns… and with actor Roddy McDowall claiming Scottish ancestry, it should come as no surprise that he showed keen interest in coming up with his own version – set in the psychedelic late 1960s. The story, however, does not begin in idyllic and historic Peeblesshire on the Scottish border, but in Swinging London where up-and-coming photographer Tom Lynne (Ian McShane) frolics with the hugely wealthy and attractive widow Michaela ‘Micky’ Cazaret (Ava Gardner) – a lady of expensive tastes for whom he has fallen hook, line and sinker (thanks to one of her witch spells) and thus declares his undying love for her. Micky knows she gets along a bit to say the least (Gardner was 47 at the time of filming) but her wealth allows her to keep a coterie of fashionable youngsters, all with too much free time – as we’ll find out later. Late in the past, Micky has had a series of considerably younger lovers, but woe to those who dare step out of line… One day the group decides to head north of the border to one of the retreats of Micky – a beautiful old building called Carterhaugh (actually it’s Traquair House outside Peebles).

The opening credits scroll across the screen for folk-jazzers The Pentangle’s ‘The Best Part of You’ as Micky and Tom drive through various London streets in his Rolls Royce – creating an almost comical contrast to the tall buildings. dull height and gray they are passing. We know the movie is going to use psychedelic effects the minute Micky puts on yellow-tinted glasses and the gray of the building turns to, well, yellow. Later and pretty much throughout the film, Tom sports the same glasses – illuminating his surroundings in bright yellow, but don’t ask this reviewer for a possible symbolic meaning. It’s a long journey north that results in some quaint interludes, such as the couple driving along Newcastle’s Tyne Bridge as young hipsters follow them in separate cars, including Joanna Lumley, Sinéad Cusack, Jenny Hanley, Bruce Robinson and Madeline Smith (all starring). The following day, the party can be seen sunbathing and having fun inside and outside Micky’s big house – passing the time with tarot card reading, drinking, smoking and gambling at the Frisbee while Tom is all too happy to snap countless photos and satisfy Micky’s needs and whims – with the action overseen by his dodgy “private secretary” Elroy (Richard Wattis). This vain routine is interrupted by the arrival of Janet Ainsley (Stephanie Beacham) – a pretty but innocent young woman dressed in rather muted colors who happens to be the daughter of the local vicar (Cyril Cusack). Janet has come to sell a puppy to one of the group, Sue (Maddie Smith), who acts like she’s a complete space cadet. Despite his unglamorous appearance, Tom is immediately seduced by Janet… and she with him. At first, Micky is welcoming towards her but quickly changes her tone upon realizing that Tom is more interested in the vicar’s daughter (he even attends a church service), bestowing his anger on her. Ah yes, finally – and after more psychedelic camera magic – we get some action when it turns out that Janet is pregnant with Tom’s baby and is considering an abortion (what would dad say?) although it proves that he’s quite a decent guy and stands up by her.

Suffice it to say, Micky will get none of this and sends his henchman to kidnap Tom just as he and Janet are about to leave his trailer, parked near the famous Firth of Forth bridge (which looks especially attractive here with the mist coming in from the sea). Back in Carterhough, a furious Micky, sporting an eerie-looking occult mask, forces her despised lover to drink from a goblet which, unbeknownst to her, contains wine fortified with an extremely potent hallucinogen. This sets the tone for the brooding climax which, true to the original ballad, sees Tom trying to escape through a dark forest in which (imaginary?) creatures want to grab and kill him – all in one coven of witches (though oddly not the youth of the party) are also in pursuit of a worthy sacrifice. Can Janet’s love save Tom from a terrible fate?

The film certainly has its moments but overall its slow pace (especially during the first hour) does it a disservice. That said, Ava Gardner and Ian McShane are in top form, as is Stephanie Beacham (TAM LIN was her first feature film role). Much to Roddy McDowell’s chagrin, after a very limited UK release, the film was shelved due to disagreements between producers Alan Ladd Jr. and Stanley Mann and only found a second release (albeit as a recut ) that two years later… by then cinematic tastes had changed and the movie’s hippy-dippy vibe suddenly felt dated (remember, the Manson murders happened when TAM LIN was made and with it ended the era of love and peace). According to various other rumors (alluded to in interviews with Madeline Smith and Stephanie Beacham on the bonus features), Ava Gardner never appeared on set until lunchtime (yes, she sure liked her booze!) while the cast and crew sat twiddling their thumbs and thus brought valid time and shooting schedule in disarray. It doesn’t matter how careful you are when dealing with a dangerous “fairy queen”… you need even more caution when dealing with a real diva! No wonder poor Roddy felt so frustrated with the whole experience that he never made another movie.

Whether you consider the film a love story with supernatural overtones or a popular horror that doesn’t quite give chills until its climax, THE BALLAD OF TAM LIN is certainly worth watching, if only for the history of cinema. Generous bonus material in this restored Blu-ray release features audio commentary, archival shorts, interviews (including with Pentangle’s Ian McShane and Jacqui McShee), trailer and illustrated booklet (first pressing only) ).


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