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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.

"Dear oh dear, there go the Americans again, I hear you say, if you read Derek Elley’s review (Variety), desperately wanting filmmakers to put everything into neatly labelled boxes: ‘kids pic’ – or ‘social essay’. Of course, life doesn’t come in neat piles, and this is based on a true story. The fact that it is children who were able to actually photograph fairies – and no-one was able to prove the photo false or identify the fairies as something else – does not mean that it has to be a children’s film, if that means leaving out adult themes and concepts. That’s where Derek is a little confused, no offense intended. I also think we are far too dismissive of children’s natural intelligence - as Rolf de Heer found in his own children when researching his film The Quiet Room. Paul (below) also calls it a family film, meaning this in a positive sense, and while that is true, this film seems to transcend all those categories. Perhaps one label you can apply to it is dramatised documentary, and the subject matter is a truly intriguing event that has remained a mystery for over 60 years. There is a marvellous sequence of three different scenes – a chess game in which a challenger defeats the local champion, a Houdini escape illusion and fairies frollicking - bound together by a single piece of (superb) music, which can be taken to suggests that the impossible is not always impossible. It made me think that the trouble with too much cynicism is that it blinds the heart by closing the mind."
Andrew L. Urban

"Fairy Tale is a magical film with settings to die for, lush production design and a story that bewitches, enchants and entrances you into believing the unbelievable. The child-like wonder of fantasy, imagination and seeing the world through a child’s eyes is captured in this gentle film, which will seduce the young at heart. We fleetingly visit the time-less beautiful world of the sprites and fairies as they flutter their wings skimming streams, flickering behind flowers while the wind whispers. Interwoven into this fantastic tale are the complexities of the academic debate between Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and escape artist Houdini. The two young girls deliver engagingly spontaneous, natural performances, especially Elizabeth Earl, with saucer eyes and the face of an angel. Peter O’Toole has marvellous presence and Harvey Keitel shows his softer side. Superb surprise casting for a tiny but crucial cameo role at the end of the film. The soundtrack is glorious, evoking the most profound emotions through simple melody, harmony and a heavenly stringed music score. Providing an opportunity to escape life’s scepticism and cynicism for an hour and a half, Fairy Tale revokes the notion that ‘Grown ups don’t know how to believe’."
Louise Keller

"Few children's films of recent memory are as enchanting or beguiling as this exquisite charmer. At last, a film which is GENUINELY for the entire family. Children will be entranced by the film's fantasy elements, while the adults can only be enthralled by what the film has to say about the nature of childhood. Yet, here is a film that does not look down on its audience, which is always the major problem with family-oriented fare, but treats children and adults alike - with intelligence. Beautifully written, the film boasts some truly impressive performances. The two children are perfect: natural and intelligent. Peter O'Toole is sublime as the grieving Arthur Conan Doyle delivering his richest performance to date. The biggest surprise here is Harvey Keitel, showing a softer, more intricate side as the initially cynical Houdini. Insightfully directed by Charles Sturridge, Fairy Tale is a film rich in its complexity, weaving an irresistible spell on its audience, while at the same time, delivering its message on the importance of childhood, and death, but not in a stereotypically sentimental fashion. Glorious to look at, touching, funny and masterfully crafted, Fairy tale, A True Story, makes a refreshing change from the over-hyped Hollywood blockbusters coming your way this Xmas."
Paul Fischer


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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

PRODUCERS: Wendy Finerman, Bruce Davey

DIRECTOR: Charles Sturridge

SCRIPT: Ernie Contreras (story by Albert Ash, Tom McLoughlin, Contreras)


EDITOR: Peter Coulson

MUSIC: Zbigniew Preisner


RUNNING TIME: 99 minutes



AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: December 26, 1997

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