RetroReviews #32: Fairy Tale: A True Story (1997)





Isn’t a film titled “Fairy Tale: A True Story” an example of false advertising? Not really. Both this film and its companion film released the same year (Photographing Fairies, which will be reviewed next) purport to tell the “true story” of the Cottingley Fairies, a famous incident that occurred in 1912 when two young girls came forward with “real life photos” of fairies that the supposedly captured on film. Famous celebrities like none other than Arthur Conan Doyle (of the Sherlock Holmes fame) investigated the matter, and found the photos to be genuine. Decades later, the girls (now elderly women) admitted at least some of the photos had been faked, but to everyone in 1912, there was compelling evidence it was a “True story”

Fairy Tale: A True Story presents an idealized version of that event. It’s told from the point of view of the two girls, and includes numerous other characters, including Harry Houdini (played by Harvey Keitel!) who view the incident as a hoax. The film presents a rather distorted version of events because the girls are shown to be totally honest and genuinely believe they have pictures of fairies, but hey, this is a family fantasy film so I cut it a little leeway.

I won’t spoil the ending, but needless to say, there is some “magical” elements to conclude the story, and although they’re artistic license, there’s nothing stopping the true believer from seeing it as the way things “really” happened. The film itself is cleverly ambiguous about whether and how the photos were faked, as it does honestly show even the “experts” at the time were highly divided, including those who made it their mission in life to “expose” gimmicks and quackery. The adult in me says this movie is too cutesy and light-hearted, while the child in me says it’s a great mystery story.

*** out of ****


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