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Tam O'Shanter

Robert Burns's poem recited and illustrated with drawings

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The famous Robert Burns poem is recited and illustrated with drawings.

Clouds shift across the moon. We see a townscape, and focus in on drunks outside the tavern. Then we pan out across a landscape, with a brewing storm. At home, Tam is scolded for being a drunk. Tam escapes to the tavern, and joins his drinking partners. There are pictures of drunken men, and drinks being poured, into glasses and down throats.

Tam mounts a horse in the storm. We see the pelting rain and the trees blowing in the wind. There is a flash of lightning. We travel into a thick forest, and find Tam astride his horse, and follow him along the hillside road. He heads on, past a waterfall, the rising mountains, along the rushing river. He arrives at a ruined church, very very drunk! His horse stops, petrified, and Tam's eyes pop wide. There's the Devil! There are many pictures of Tam in various states of disbelief and fear.

He peers through the broken window. A wench, and Tam's eyes go sly. A granny and a black cat. The Devil laughs, eyes in the night. An owl in the tree. Witches chase Tam as he rides for his life. Maggie the witch grabs his horse's tail. It snaps! And Tam escapes.

Questions & Activities


  • What is the story of Tam O'Shanter?
  • Where is the story located?
  • Why does Tam see the witches and warlocks?
  • How many Scots words can you recognise?
  • Is the opening music appropriate to the subject matter of the film?
  • What other Scots words do you know or are used by members of your family?


Collect Scots words that you know and discuss which are the best sound words. Develop your own poem or play using the Scots language.

Illustrate and animate another Burns poem such as 'Address to the Toothache' or 'Willie Wastle'.

Write a description of what happens in the style of a TV journalist. Record your report on film and then splice in scenes from the film to illustrate your news report on the event. Alternatively export stills from the film for use in a local newspaper report about Tam's wild night.

Write a "€œWhat happened next?"€ extension to Burns's poem in the Scots language.

Discuss the way each character is portrayed in this film and whether you think this characterisation is appropriate. Then write a brief character study of each character in English and/or Scots.

Study the setting, imagery, rhetorical style and pace of the poem.

Look at a map of Ayr and the surrounding villages and retrace Tam's journey.

The last witch was executed in Scotland in 1722 and there were several other famous trials that came even later. Research the history of witchcraft in Scotland. Discuss the reasons behind the popular belief in witches and what psychological needs might underlie these beliefs.

Look at the different references to alcohol in the poem. Discuss how many Scots are depicted as heavy drinkers in popular culture.

Clip Details

Record Id 007-000-002-065-C
Resource Rights Holder National Library of Scotland
Project Ref 0458
Date 1958
Genre Animation
School Subject Art and Design, Media Studies, Health and Wellbeing, History
Subject Matter Literacy, Scots, Language, Halloween, Witch, Devil, Animation
Who Campbell Harber Films Ltd. (production company), Edward and Elizabeth Odling (illustration), Harold Wightman (recitation), Joint Production Committee of SEFA and SFC (sponsor)
Where Alloway
Attributes Black and White, Sound
Clip Length 12:14
Film Length 12:14