The Ballad of Tam Lin [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray B - United Kingdom - British Film Institute
Review written by and copyright: James-Masaki Ryan (31st October 2022).
The Film

"The Ballad of Tam Lin" (1970)

Michaela "Micky" Cazalet (played by Ava Gardner) is an ageing yet ageless woman who is independently wealthy and surrounded by a group of young men and women at her side, in which they drive expensive cars, lounge about at a lavish countryside manor, and have little to no care about the rest of the world. Tom Lynn (played by Ian McShane) is one of her young male lovers that she keeps close, but things start to change once he encounters Janet (played by Stephanie Beacham), a young local woman. Micky cannot have the younger woman stand in her way, causing a collapse of the communal world around her.

"The Ballad of Tam Lin" is quite a fascinating tale in terms of the making of the film. It was loosely based on the Scottish tale of "Tam Lin", about a man rescued from the Queen of the Fairies who had control of him. It was directed by British born Hollywood legend Roddy McDowall as his directorial debut. Hollywood screen legend Ava Gardner would take the lead as a seductress character, with supporting roles from veteran British actors such as Cyril Cusack and newcomers like McShane and Beacham. There were also some stellar crew members including veteran cinematographer Billy Williams and composer Stanley Myers, plus new folk group Pentangle providing new songs for the film. Alan Ladd, Jr. was one of the producers of the project and had a fairly sizeable budget. While the production itself went fairly smoothly, the post production and eventual release was marred with trouble, landing in relative obscurity until its rediscovery decades later.

Though it has its roots in a folk horror story, "The Ballad of Tam Lin" lies in an unusual place of being set in the modern period, specifically in the late 1960s when the film was shot, where the London fashion of the era and the lingo was in prominent display, as well as the free spirited nature of the youth via hippie culture. Yet the tone of the film has elements of the horror films of Hammer Studios, while also sharing the unsettling tone found in "The Wicker Man" which would be released a few years afterwards. Gardner's portrayal of the central figure has both sexiness and mystery with elegance and style, seducing both the characters on screen as well as audiences. Yet the mystery is also riddled with questions that are never answered and the gaps within the nature of the characters are sometimes difficult to grasp. Is Micky a witch casting a spell? Is she a controlling socialite? "The Ballad of Tam Lin" doesn't make things easy for audiences, by creatively not showing many elements of the story. For a horror, there is no blood or gore, though there are sex, drugs, and scares to be found throughout. Yet, it also doesn't quite fall into the same category of horror as many might expect either. It's interestingly a film that doesn't fit any particular category, yet wanting to be a genre film.

Visually the film is excellent, with McDowall's direction. He had an eye for photography, and the locations chosen and the visual style of the widescreen cinematography by Williams captures both the vast green exteriors and the dark and warm interiors wonderfully. In addition, the wonderful period wardrobe of swinging London of the late 60s, in addition to the set designs are always fascinating to see in any situation. There are also some techniques that are creative such as the scene between Tom and Janet outside being shown in stillframe photos for their time falling in love, as well as the eerie final chase sequence in the dark with its interesting visuals and editing. In addition, as McDowall being an actor himself, he was able to get good performances from the actors, even if the story itslef was a bit on the abstract and sometimes incoherent side.

Shot in 1969 and produced by Commonwealth United Entertainment for theatrical distribution, the company was facing major financial troubles, and the British theatrical release was barely a blip, screening in December of 1970 with little fanfare whatsoever. The American rights were sold to American Internation Pictures, which recut the film and retitled it "The Devil's Widow", which also was released with barely a notice in September of 1972. By this time, the 60s fashion of the characters, the folk music craze, and everything about it seemed heavily dated. The film was an obscure note in the filmographies of its many famous stars, and becoming a rarely seen feature outside of rare screenings, and almost none of the would be what McDowall had cut or intended. In addition, with the original production company folding and rights issues being handed to differing places over the years, the copyright status of who owned the rights became a detective game to solve. But a director's cut did in fact exist, as McDowall had an original print of the film. And through the help of filmmaker Martin Scorsese. who was able to view McDowall's print, was able to track the elements and the rights issues to Republic Pictures, which acquired the CUE library after their folding (which would later pass to Paramount Pictures, which acquired the Republic Pictures library). The film was restored to its original length with McDowall's supervision, which also was given a first ever home video release on VHS in the United States by Republic Pictures in 1998, which was also sadly the same year that McDowell passed away on October 3rd, at the age of 70. Interestingly, the British made film never received a video release in its home country. It also skipped the DVD era, and finally in 2022, the BFI have given the film its first ever home video release in the United Kingdom on the Blu-ray format.

"The Ballad of Tam Lin" is a fairly flawed feature with a number of positive and negative aspects, but the journey that it has taken to find audiences is one of the more fascinating stories of a film with such major talent attached. A fascinating work that fills a small gap in the folk horror genre, it's a visual delight that feels a little bit empty at times.

Note this is a region B Blu-ray


The BFI presents the film in the original 2.35:1 aspect ratio in 1080p AVC MPEG-4. The HD transfer comes from the current American rightsholder, Paramount Pictures. The transfer is a slightly dated one and isn't that great, as it exhibits a number of imperfections within the frame. There are noticeable speckles that can be found and some other minor damage marks throughout. Colors on the other hand are fairly well balanced and well reproduced. Film grain is left intact without any signs of digital manipulation, leaving an accurate looking and natural transfer, without major restoration efforts applied. Overall it is a fair, yet not quite wonderful transfer for the feature.

This is the director's cut and has a runtime of 106:54.


English LPCM 2.0 mono
The original English mono track is presented uncompressed. Like the image, there are some defects that are noticeable, as there are moments of crackle and pops able to be heard, especially near reel changes at every ten or so minutes. On a more positive note, the dialogue is fairly clear and easy to understand, with music and effects being well balanced as well, with the songs by Pentangle and composer Stanley Myers sounding very good. It's stated that in the March 1970 BBFC classification, submission, the film had one use of teh F word censored which comes at the 22:47 mark, with the line "I shall be in the fucking prime of my life" having the word removed and shortened. As it is not on a close-up and the dialogue was shortened to remove the pause, the removal of the word is not noticeable in the film. It has never been released with the word intact, and this Blu-ray release reflects the originally released version without the word.

There are optional English HoH subtitles for the main feature in a white font, which are easy to read and well timed.


Audio Commentary with film historians Vic Pratt and Will Fowler (2021)
This audio commentary by the BFI's Vic Pratt and Will Fowler have the two of them discuss the background, the making, and eventual fate of the film in fine detail. They cover the aspects such as the music choices and modern fashion of the period it was shot in, the locations, as well as biographies of the cast and crew, pointing out some of the questionable or absurd moments, and also the film's issues with its release, the recutting, and eventual rediscovery. Note that this commentary was previous available on the Australian Imprint/Via Vision 2021 Blu-ray release of the film.
in English LPCM 2.0 without subtitles

"Love You & Leave You for Dead: Ian McShane on Tam Lin" 2021 audio interview set to scenes of the film (11:04)
This Ballyhoo produced featurette has actor Ian McShane discuss about his work on the film. He talks about the script, having a great relationship with McDowall directing and acting opposite Gardner, plus other praises for the cast and crew. He also recalls the eeriness of hearing about the Manson murders on the news during the film's production and laments over the film's obscurity for many years. This seems to have been a remotely conducted interview and only the audio portion being used, with the visuals being scenes from the film itself. McShane's audio is quite hollow and weak, sounding like a standard built-in laptop microphone. Note that this interview was previous available on the Australian Imprint/Via Vision 2021 Blu-ray release of the film.
in 1080p AVC MPEG-4, in 2.35:1, in English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 without subtitles

"An Eerie Tale to Tell: Stephanie Beacham on Tam Lin" 2021 audio interview set to scenes of the film (10:00)
This is another featurette produced by Ballyhoo, with is and interview with Stephanie Beacham recalling her work on the film. From memories of working with Gardner and the advice that she gave, fond recollections of the other cast and praise for McDowall's direction is discussed, as well as behind the scenes information such as the lighting and costumes as well. Like McShane's interview this also seems to have been done remotely, though Beacham's voice is much clearer with the help of a better microphone. Note that this interview was previous available on the Australian Imprint/Via Vision 2021 Blu-ray release of the film.
in 1080p AVC MPEG-4, in 2.35:1, in English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 without subtitles

"Ballad of a B-Movie: Revisiting Tam Lin" 2021 interview with Roddy McDowall biographer David Del Valle (11:45)
David Del Valle gives an interesting insight into the film in this on camera interview, which was one of his unsung and unnoticed favorites for a long time. He talks about its history and its themes, as well as being able to show off rare stills that he acquired from the production. Note that this interview was previous available on the Australian Imprint/Via Vision 2021 Blu-ray release of the film.
in 1080p AVC MPEG-4, in 2.35:1, in English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 without subtitles

"Listening in: Jacqui McShee on The Ballad of Tam Lin" 2022 interview (27:15)
For this newly made interview, Jacqui McShee discusses her career as a musician in the band Pentangle as well as the making of "The Ballad of Tam Lin". From the band's formation and the folk music scene at the time, there are some tour stories as well as the story of the band's offer to compose the soundtrack for the film. She admits that she couldn't see the film until its release on VHS, like many other people.
in 1080p AVC MPEG-4, in 1.78:1/2.35:1, in English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 without subtitles

"Adventures Along the Way: Madeline Smith on The Ballad of Tam Lin" 2022 interview (32:07)
This newly made interview has actress Madeline Smith discuss her life and career with a lot of fascinating information. From her parents, her Catholic upbringing, being scouted and working on live television, there is a lot discussed before her eventual work on "The Ballad of Tam Lin". For the film itself, she talks about the star filled on set visits from people such as Lauren Bacall, Lee Remick and even Sean Connery, including Connery trying to hit on her and being unsuccessful. She recalls the relationships between the cast and crew in high regard, and the film's unfortunate fate and having no impact on her acting career as basically no one saw it at the time.
in 1080p AVC MPEG-4, in 1.78:1/2.35/1, in English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 without subtitles

"Hans Zimmer Remembers Stanley Myers" 2021 audio interview plays as an alternate audio track over the film (19:34)
This audio interview has famed film composer Hans Zimmer discussing about "The Ballad of Tam Lin" composer Stanley Myers, who was Zimmer's mentor. He recalls Myers' methods, his style, his high intellect, as well as his terrible handwriting that no one else could read, as well as highlights with various soundtracks he had worked on. The audio here also seems to be done from a remote call, so the audio is a little hollow, but is still listenable. Unlike the other audio interviews, this one plays as an alternate audio track for the film for about the first twenty minutes, then reverting to the film's audio for the rest of the runtime.
in 1080p AVC MPEG-4, in 2.35:1, English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 without subtitles

"Legendary Ladies of the Silver Screen with Your Host Roddy McDowall" 1998 featurette (17:33)
This vintage featurette, which was produced for inclusion on the film's first ever home video release on VHS from Republic Pictures in the United States, has McDowall discussing Gardner's career as an actress, starting at MGM and mentioning many highlight films, as well as her secret lack of confidence that affected her anxiety, her troubled later years and their time working on "The Ballad of Tam Lin". He also talks about the fate of the film and how it is finally receiving a restored home video release nearly three decades later. Note this was also available on the Australian Imprint/Via Vision Blu-ray release.
in 1080p AVC MPEG-4, in 1.33:1, in English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 without subtitles

"Red Red? Red" 1971 short film (33:49)
This short art film by directors Jim Weiss, Chris Maudson and John Phillips is not one to follow narrative structure, focusing on the theme of counterculture with young adults through. There are snippets of dialogue and radio voices heard discussing what revolution means, art metaphors for violence and change, all done with creative cinematography through handheld camera capturing the chaos. Difficult to describe yet fascinating to see, it is basically an experimental student film that has some parallels with the commune in "The Ballad of Tam Lin" in a distant way. The colors are fairly good in the transfer, with minimal damage to be found, as well as having fairly clean audio with the mono track. Note that this short is also available to watch for free on the BFI Player.
in 1080p AVC MPEG-4, in 1.33:1, in English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 without subtitles

Border Country:
- "O'er Hill and Dale: Shepherd's Spring in the Cheviot Hills" 1932 short film (16:00)
- "Queen o' the Border" 1948 short film (9:42)

Two documentary shorts are included in this submenu. The first, the 1932 short film "O'er Hill and Dale" is another day in the life of a sheep farmer, made by the Empire Marketing Board Film Unit and directed by Basil Wright, featuring narration by Andrew Buchanan. The farmer’s work includes taking care of the sheep and the area, rescuing a baby lamb that gets stuck in a stream, dealing with a death of a lamb, and watching out for sudden weather changes. The picture is fair, but with a sometimes weak image with damage, and having issues of warping especially at the start of the film but, there is good detail and depth with the black and white image. The audio fares betterl as the narration was entirely done in studio, along with the music cues. Note that the short is also available on the BFI Blu-ray release of "On the Black Hill" (1988). Also note that this short is also available to watch for free on the BFI Player.
The second short "Queen o' the Border", produced by Crown Film Unit is a showcase of the Scottish town Hawick, with its beautiful landscapes and its long history with knitting, from stockings to sweaters. The people of Hawick, or "Teris" as they are called, are shown in the manufacturing plants where modern machinery and hand crafted skills are combined for their main products. Shot in the Technichrome color format, it doesn't have quite the vibrancy of three strip Technicolor, but it is certainly a treat to see in full color. There is some wear and damage marks visible as well as some damage in audio, though it has been remastered fairly well here. Note that this short is also available to watch for free on the BFI Player.
in 1080p AVC MPEG-4, in 1.33:1, in English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 without subtitles

Theatrical Trailer (2:10)
A cropped trailer which actually looks quite good being remastered from a film element, this is an American trailer as it has the AIP logo and shows the title as “Tam Lin”. It has also been embedded below.
in 1080p AVC MPEG-4, in 1.78:1, in English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 without subtitles

A 28 page booklet is included with the first pressing. First is the essay "The Ballad of a Film Sometimes Called Tam Lin" by the BFI's William Fowler which looks at the making of and the bungled release of the film.

The film received its Blu-ray debut in North America by Olive Films back in 2013, which had no extras at all - a common practice for standard edition discs from the company. In 2021, Australia's Via Vision through their Imprint label released an excellent Blu-ray featuring a number of new and vintage extras, with a number of them being carried over to the 2022 BFI Blu-ray release. Though there are a number of extras that remain exclusive to the Australian release: a second commentary track by Dr Adam Scovell, a visual essay by Kat Ellinger, three additional interviews with actors Delia Lindsay and Kiffer Weisselberg and editor Peter Boyle, plus a photo gallery. While the BFI have a number of other exclusives, fans should consider having both the UK and Australian releases for a complete set of extras. "Tam Lin: The Young and the Restless" is the next essay, written by co-director of Powerhouse Films Sam Dunn, is an article that first appeared in Sight & Sound, August 2010. "Visible Vulnerability: Ava Gardner" is a written biography of the actress by Corinna Reicher. This is followed by a review of the film from 1977 by Tom Milne, which was first printed in Monthly Film Bulletin. There are also full film credits, special features information, transfer information, acknowledgements, and stills.

Other notable clips:

A clip from the film, courtesy of the BFI.

Cinematographer Billy Williams on lighting Ava Gardner on "The Balland of Tam Lin".

A newly created trailer by Australia's Imprint/Via Vision for their Blu-ray release.


This is spine #45 in the BFI's Flipside series.


"The Ballad of Tam Lin" might fall a little flat at times, but still retains a fair amount to like about it, with the eerie vibe and the visuals to match. The BFI release is a great one in terms of the extras, though the image and sound quality have some minor issues, by not being remastered to higher standards. Still comes as recommended for the fans of the unusual and obscure.

The Film: C+ Video: B- Audio: B- Extras: A- Overall: B


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