THE BALLAD OF TAM LIN aka THE DEVIL’S WIDOW (1970) Reviews and worth watching



‘She drained them of their manhood… and then – of their lives!’

The Ballad of Tam Lin – aka Tam Lin and The Devil’s Widow – is a 1970 British fantasy feature film directed by Roddy McDowall and produced by Alan Ladd, Jr. and Stanley Mann, from a screenplay by William Spier based on Robert Burns’ poem The Ballad of Tam Lin.


The movie was made by Commonwealth United Entertainment, Winkast Film Productions Ltd. and distributed by American International Pictures (AIP).

The film’s score was composed by Stanley Myers and folk band Pentangle and it was photographed by Billy Williams.

tan lin

The film stars Ava Gardner and Ian McShane with Richard Wattis, Cyril Cusack, Stephanie Beacham, Sinéad Cusack and Joanna Lumley.


McDowall’s direction of this film precluded him reprising his role as Cornelius in Beneath the Planet of the Apes, the only one of the original five Planet of the Apes films from which he is absent.

Tam Lin


Using an ancient Scottish folk song, an older woman uses witchcraft to keep her young jet-set friends in her power…


“The entire film is rather dreamlike, from virtually the first moment, where Mickey and Tom relax in afterglow, but she can’t help telling him she wants to kill him (how’s that for a little black widow post-coital chit chat?) […] McDowall crafts a visceral mood of a reverie that slowly but surely turns into a nightmare in the form of that most dreaded of late sixties and early seventies phenomena, the bad trip.” Jeffrey Kauffman,

“By the time the movie ends, McDowell has taken us into some expectedly dark and deliriously psychedelic territory. The movie doesn’t necessarily end the way that you think it’s going to and it turns out to be a rather strange, although very deliberate film. Some pacing issues aside, this is a pretty interesting curio, a mix of genres skewed through a singular vision…” Ian Jane, DVD Talk183600.1020.A

“McDowall builds a broodingly enigmatic sense of menace out of stray allusions and apparitions that hover without ever really being explained or over-exploited: the snatches of [Robert] Burns intimating the presence of diabolic machinations; the girl terrified by her own unspoken Tarot prophecies; the dialogue that rings like blank verse, as though it had been used over and over again. Above all, though, this menace is effective chiefly because it is rhymed with a mounting sense of quiet decorum, as though reality, the world of the ordinary, everyday banality, were suddenly present to Tom for the first time.” Tom Milne, Monthly Film Bulletin, June 1977

“The disappointment is that it remains a resolutely mundane film until the very end. Even then it is only in the final shot as McDowall goes in for a closeup on Ava Gardner’s face accompanied by a song on the soundtrack that comes with lyrics about her being the Queen of Fairies, plus end credits that list the extras as members of a coven, that give the film a fantastical reading…” Richard Scheib, Moria

183601.1020.A“A languid, hallucinatory gem, and the only film to have been directed by Mr. Roddy McDowall […] deserves to be seen, for a once-in-a-lifetime gathering of young Brit starlets, endless bon mots and waspish dialogue, and a thrilling horror/chase climax every bit the equal of the flight of the children in Charles Laughton’s The Night of the Hunter. Darrell Buxton, The Spinning Image

183602.1020.A“This, it must be noted, is possibly the most extravagantly camp film ever attempted from within the celluloid closet. None of the characters is gay, no same-sex action is performed or even hinted at, but the entirety of the production is perfumed in Wildean fantasy, hyped up with a particularly arch form of chi-chi Gothic aestheticism, intensified to hysteria by the colored lenses and fey folk-rock of the period.” David Cairns, The Auteurs

183603.1020.A“Using the malevolent mood of a drunken party-prank gone wrong, the film speeds towards a conclusion which toys with horror-film conventions. In this interpretation a caravan by the Forth Bridge, a fleet of sports cars and a deadly dose of hallucinogenics feature as iconic plot devices. Richard Wattis is a memorably creepy supporting Queen as the waspish Secretary Elroy whilst a sympathetic Cyril Cusack plays Janet’s pastor-father.” From Between the Cracks





Cast and characters:

  • Ava Gardner … Michaela Cazaret
  • Ian McShane … Tom Lynn
  • Richard Wattis … Elroy
  • Cyril Cusack … Vicar Julian Ainsley
  • Stephanie Beacham … Janet Ainsley
  • David Whitman … Oliver
  • Fabia Drake … Miss Gibson
  • Sinéad Cusack … Rose (as Sinead Cusack)
  • Joanna Lumley … Georgia
  • Jenny Hanley … Caroline
  • Madeline Smith … Sue
  • Bruce Robinson … Alan
  • Victoria Fairbrother … Vanna (as Pamela Farbrother)
  • Rosemary Blake … Kate
  • Michael Bills Michael Bills … Michael
  • Virginia Tingwell … Lottie
  • Peter Hinwood … Guy
  • Hayward Morse … Andy
  • Julian Barnes … Terry
  • Norman Oliver … Peter
  • Salena Jones … Herself
  • Jannice Dinnen … Second Coven (as Jan Dinnen)
  • Andrew Grant … Second Coven
  • Don Hawkins … Second Coven
  • Delia Lindsay … Second Coven
  • Linda Marlowe … Second Coven
  • Michael Mundell … Second Coven
  • Yvonne Quenet … Second Coven
  • Erika Raffael … Second Coven
  • Jocelyne Sbath … Second Coven
  • Christopher Williams … Second Coven
  • Jimmy Winston … Second Coven
  • John Bawden … Kip

Digital release:

Olive Films released Tam Lin on Blu-ray on September 24, 2013.


Censorship body the BBFC required cuts (there are no details) in order to award an ‘X’ certificate on 10/03/1970. When the film was resubmitted as The Devil’s Widow in 1977 it was awarded a ‘AA’ certificate (National Telefilms Assoc Inc, classified on 09/03/1977).

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