Fairy Tale – A True Story

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Fairy Tale, in short, is well made and charming – but it is not a movie for everyone. It’s not busy enough or filled with enough fairies for children, but it does have a lot of interesting commentary (and non verbal commentary) about the value of faith in people’s lives.

The true story is: in 1917, two cousins (Florence Hoath and Elizabeth Earl, bith excellent) take photographs of the fairies they believe with all their hearts that live in the beck behind their house. It’s like a creek. The children are 8 and 12 and take a remarkably adult approach to the fairies – we the audience have no doubts as to their belief and their respect for the fairies. Adults, shockingly enough, do not believe in fairies, but like the angel fever of today, deep down, they want to. So the photos are examined by professionals and nothing is found to be tricky and the great debate begins – are the photos of fairies real or
not?

My main problem with the film was that I had not a moment’s doubt of the fairies’ existence because I saw them all the time (true story label or no, it was presented from the girls’ point of view and therefore the fairies are definitely real) – but the debate centered on whether the *photographs* were real. In these modern times, the proof is in the picture.

It was lovely and it was touching to see how the belief in the fairies helped people – and it was interesting to see how 80 years ago the power of the press to exploit beauty, purity and goodness was just as strong as it is now. Peter O’Toole plays Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, a man who writes fantasy but lives pragmatics, and Harvey Keitel plays Harry Houdini, a man who lives fantasy by employing secret pragmatics. They are, as many reviewers have already noted, surprisingly understated in not stealing the movie from the children, and they are lovely endpieces to the debate. The best part is, being the effusive actors that they are, they manage to get across their character’s celebrity without tainting it with their own. I
personally have little patience for Pumpkinhead, er, I mean Harvey Keitel, but I appreciated him very much in this film.

Houdini’s job is reliant on the faith of his audience; Doyle’s job is create fiction with a basis in hard scientific reality (for the time). It’s an interesting debate that is carried on in slow, picturesque European casualness, with lovely dragonfly winged fairies and a lot of really deeply felt emotions. I found it sweet and lovely and I enjoyed the vulnerability of the men especially.

The period details are delicious – lots of cool photolab information and props (the kind of stuff I really dig but I know you guys don’t actually care). The dolls house for the fairies is positively dreamy. The production of Peter Pan (do I have to point out the symbolism?) with the classic theatrical technology was a delight as well.

It’s Arthur Rackham vs the Adult/Capitalist/Industrial Revolution – the obsession with exploiting the extraordinary and making it ordinary. The worst part is remembering that these women recently came forward with the truth about the pictures. Notice I do not reveal it here. Director Charles Sturrige does not grant us an epilogue card at the end to tell us the result, which I appreciated. The cinematographer does a great Fairy-Cam too.

Full Price for the production team’s work. Matinee Price with a snack for the movie as a whole – it does not pick a sie, so it meanders like a Yorkshire beck; a nice bit of a trot but not richly fulfilling. It will quickly be forgotten which is a shame since it is a very interesting story and the theme is especially timely. If you are writing a paper inspired by the paparazzi-riddled lives of celebrities and the loss of privacy and sacredness in the world, then buy the laserdisc when it comes out.

MPAA Rating PG
Release date 10/24/97
Time in minutes 99
Director Charles Sturrige
Studio Paramount Pictures