Handsome, moody, and foreboding, this flawed film offers an adult perspective on the story told in the feature FAIRY TALE: A TRUE STORY (1997). The tale introduces fictional characters into the matter of the real-life 1917 "Cottingley fairies" hoax in which two English girls produced
photos which they claimed proved the existence of fairies. The photos were actually whimsical cutout drawings, but they were taken by occultists at the time to be "scientific" proof of the supernatural.
The widespread publicity surrounding the Cottingley fairy photos, spearheaded by none other than writer Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (Edward Hardwicke), interest portrait photographer Charles Castle (Toby Stephens), who's suffering from the loss of his wife Anne-Marie (Rachel Shelley), who died in an
ice fissure on their Alpine honeymoon. Crashing an assembly at the Theosophical Society of London, rationalist Charles denounces the Cottingley photos. Nonetheless, Bea Templeton (Frances Barber), a woman in the audience, tells Castle that her two children cavorted with genuine fairies and
captured the otherworldly entities on film. When Charles grudgingly scrutinizes the pictures, doubt yields to fascination; something exists in the humanoid blurs. To the dismay of his assistant Roy (Philip Davis), Charles goes to the Templetons' little village to investigate. Bea's husband, the
Reverend Templeton (Ben Kingsley), remains aloof, but Mrs. Templeton tells Charles that she's made a breakthrough and can see fairies herself. Suddenly Bea dies in the forest, apparently having fallen from an old tree where her daughters play. Queries to the girls and their sympathetic nanny Linda
(Emily Woof) help Charles learn that the secret to seeing the fairies is to eat a mind-altering flower apparently growing only in the tree trunk. His heightened senses now perceive the fairies around him--and when they pass through his body Charles experiences the sensation of loving Anne-Marie
again. Roy and Linda help Charles erect an array of cameras, but he faces hostility from Rev. Templeton. During a delirious night of fairy-photographing, Charles must be restrained from climbing the tree and repeating Bea's ecstatic, fatal fall. The next day, however, he catches Templeton
destroying his equipment and burning the tree, fairies perishing in an invisible holocaust. Charles grapples with the cleric, accidentally killing him. Arrested, the photographer makes no defense, and embraces the death penalty. Before his hanging, Linda gives Charles one last flower to ingest.
At the instant of execution he is suddenly back with Anne-Marie in the mountains, but now he saves her from the ice.
That wishful finale, suggesting that everything you've just seen has been a hysterical delusion, badly subverts the spell cast by the rest of the film. PHOTOGRAPHING FAIRIES begins with Stephens (son of eminent actress Maggie Smith and actor Robert Stephens) effectively portraying a soul-damaged
hero who himself, via photographic trickery, creates sham "resurrection" portraits of WWI casualties to comfort grieving relatives. An ominous atmosphere prevails as Castle's loss makes him obsess over the prospect of communion with his mate's spirit, and there's a frisson of Antonioni's BLOW-UP
(1966) when Castle's lab overflows with countless fairy enlargements after a manic night in the darkroom. The sprites themselves are strikingly introduced, but resemble computer-generated, nude Barbie dolls more than anything else. In fact, first-time director Nick Willing can't seem to figure out
what to do upon finally reaching fairyland, and thus Ben Kingsley's sketchy character arbitrarily mutates into an ill-motivated antagonist. Plus, solemn scenes of Anne-Marie and Charles's fates are played out in painfully phony-looking artificial snow.
Viewing this back to back with the upbeat FAIRY TALE: A TRUE STORY yields a RASHOMON-like feeling of storytellers with different agendas tackling the same material. Here Charles Castle uses basic camera principles to discredit the Cottingley stills; in FAIRY TALE, a similar scene has an expert
citing the same details to authenticate the pictures. Similarity between the two features was more than coincidence, reported American author Steve Szilagyi, who claimed that a script adaptation of his 1992 novel Photographing Fairies, supposedly rejected by an initial production company, was
developed into the PG-rated clone released by Paramount. Meanwhile, Polygram's PHOTOGRAPHING FAIRIES allegedly went through 23 script drafts, discarding much of Szilagyi's original text anyway. In 1998, after both movies had played out, the original Cottingley fairy photographs sold to a book
dealer at auction in London for the equivalent of $35,000. (Nudity, sexual situations, adult situations, violence, substance abuse.)
Cast & Details See all »
- Released: 1997
- Rating: R
- Review: Handsome, moody, and foreboding, this flawed film offers an adult perspective on the story told in the feature FAIRY TALE: A TRUE STORY (1997). The tale introduces fictional characters into the matter of the real-life 1917 "Cottingley fairies" hoax in whic… (more)