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In 1917 England, twelve-year-old Elsie Wright (Florence Hoath) has believed in fairies and other spiritual beings since her brother Joseph's death a few years earlier. When her eight-year-old cousin, Frances Griffiths (Elizabeth Earl), comes to stay with her, the two girls set out to photograph the fairies that Joseph had drawn years ago. When they actually capture the fairies on film, Elsie's parents, Arthur (Paul Mcgann) and Polly (Phoebe Nicholls), have difficulty believing, yet cannot dispute the evidence. Having never fully recovered from the death of her son, Polly, gives the photos to E.L. Gardner (Bill Nighy), a visiting Theosophical Society speaker who passes them onto famed author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (Peter O'Toole). Having communicated with his dead son recently through a medium, believes in spirits, much to the doubting amusement of his friend and renowned magician – and sceptic - Harry Houdini (Harvey Keitel). Soon, however, both men take an interest in the girls and their photos, and Doyle’s subsequent published article subjects them to national attention. Crowds seeking the fairies descend upon the wooded creek, and a ruthless local reporter, John Ferret (Tim McInnerny), hounds the family and the two girls relentlessly. The girls do what they can to protect their little friends and keep them from being chased away.

"You don't have to believe in fairies to be swept away by this beautiful film. Nominally a kid's flick, Fairy Tale: A True Story is filled with such rich detail adults will perhaps be affected by it more than the younger set.

As the title suggests the story is true. In 1917, 12 year old Yorkshire schoolgirl Elsie Wright (Florence Hoath) and her 8 year old cousin Frances Griffiths (Elizabeth Earl) took a camera to the bottom of the garden where they photographed what appeared to be fairies. Elsie's mother Polly (Phoebe Nicholls) forwarded the photos to a member of the Theosophical Society who in turn had the authenticity of the negatives confirmed by experts. The photographs were brought to the attention of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (Peter O'Toole) who published them in his magazine The Strand. Conan Doyle's friend Harry Houdini (Harvey Keitel), then on tour in the UK, also played a role in a sensational story that turned into a media circus once the real identities of the young photographers became known.

What makes Fairy Tale: A True Story such a magical and rewarding experience is the detailed evocation of Elsie and Frances' world. Frances' father is missing in action, Elsie's brother has died recently and her father Arthur (Paul McGann) is uneasy about the role he's playing in the electrification of the local mill. The idea of "more shifts and continuous production" excites his blustery boss (Bob Peck) but Arthur's eyes betray a deep sadness at the slavery inherent in jobs for life. The mutual grief of Polly Wright and Conan Doyle, both of whom have lost sons, lends a deeply affecting emotional quality to this drama that is about much more than the possibilities of fairies in the bottom of the garden.

It is about innocence, hope and dreams - all those risky dramatic propositions that can so easily induce audience cringing. As delicately served up under Charles Sturridge's perfectly judged direction, even the hardest of hearts might find themselves shedding a tear as this enchanting tale unfolds. Whether the fairies really exist is secondary to the positive effect the belief has on each of the characters and even the nation itself as it suffers in the grip of a terrible war. Wonderful performances, superb period detail, utterly enchanting depictions of fairies at play and a magnificent score by Zbigniew Preisner make this one of the best children's films ever made and a must to own. Bonus features include behind the scenes footage and interviews with Sturridge and key cast members, including the rarely interviewed Keitel and the remarkably perceptive young stars."
Richard Kuipers

Published May 24, 2001

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CAST: Florence Hoath, Elizabeth Earl, Paul McGann, Phoebe Nicholls, Peter O’Toole, Harvey Keitel, Bill Nighy, Bob Peck, Tim McInnerny, Mel Gibson

DIRECTOR: Charles Sturridge

RUNNING TIME: 99 minutes


DVD RELEASE: March 12, 2001

SPECIAL FEATURES: Widescreen; Trailer; Behind The Scenes Featurette; Interviews.

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