The guillotine was a device used for carrying out executions by decapitation. It consisted of a tall upright frame from which a blade was suspended. The device is noted for execution in France and, more particularly, for its use during the French Revolution. There is graphic description of the process of death by guillotine and of the people who were executed in late 18th century France. On occasion the wrong person and the innocent were caught up in the execution frenzy. The film features an interesting retelling of a woman from Bordeaux who was required to sit at the blade of her husband's execution before she herself was guillotined.
Students could be asked about the guillotine and other forms of punishment. The guillotine was a harsh method of punishment and was designed to deter others from commiting similar crimes. In fact, guillotine days brought in large crowds that were often described as being 'carnival' and 'jovial' in atmopshere. A class exercise could be to produce a debate on the 'pros' and 'cons' of the guillotine as a method of punishment and to consider the extent to which it achieved its aims. There is cross-curricular use with Citizenship, to consider the debate on whether a society is right to pass a sentence of capital punishment - whether by hanging, guillotine, firing-squad, legal injection - upon a convict. Extension: students can research which countries still have the right to pass a sentence of 'capital punishment' and the reasons they have for keeping it on the statute books.