Friday, November 8, 2013

FairyTale: A True Story Review

This movie keeps coming to mind lately. I remember seeing FairyTale: A True Story (1997) shortly after it hit home video and not being particularly impressed by it, but even after sixteen years I can still distinctly remember some of the visuals.
It's 1917 in West Yorkshire, England. Arthur (The Doctor Paul McGann) and Polly Wright (Phoebe Nicholls) and their twelve-year-old daughter Elsie (Florence Hoath) are still grieving over the death of Elsie's younger brother. Polly's eight-year-old niece Frances Griffiths (Elizabeth Earl) has come to stay with them after her father was declared missing in action during World War I. Polly longs for some sort of proof that there is a life beyond our own, while the two girls zealously believe in fairies and enthusiastically study legend and lore. One day, Elsie and Frances produce photographs of fairies that they claim were playing in their garden; Polly believes that they are real, and soon the snapshots attract international attention. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (Peter O'Toole), author of the Sherlock Holmes mysteries and a confirmed spiritualist, declares the photos "as genuine as the King's beard," while illusionist Harry Houdini (Harvey Keitel), who has devoted much of his time and energy to exposing phony mediums and psychics, takes a more skeptical view.
It's true that two English girls produced photographs that showed themselves with fairies in 1917. The photographs were published in a national magazine by  Conan Doyle, who vouched for their authenticity. The "Cottingley Fairies" created an international sensation , though there were many doubters. Many years later, when the two girls were old ladies, they confessed that the photos were a hoax. Everything else that makes up the bulk of this movie was produced as "creative liberties" to tell a fun story. That little tidbit makes the subtitle, "A True Story," effectively a falsehood.
On the other hand, that's kind of the point of this story; questioning truth. There is truth and there is falsehood, and they are not always easily distinguishable. Somewhere between what is true and what is false lies the nebulous grey area that we often like to call magic. That magic is very enticing and can grant us hope in the face the ugly truths and the enticing falsehoods. This movie is about that "magic" and how everyone responds to it in different ways. It would be very easy to extrapolate religious themes from this movie, but thematically it remains firmly rooted in the whimsical.
Yes, there are fairies in this movie. We see them. We even see them when there are no human characters around. That should suggest either that they actually do exist in the world of this movie or we, the audience, believe in fairies. It would make more sense if the fairies only appeared to the girls. The movie may have been trying to get the audience to reflect on how they react to mystical things, but if that was the case, it didn't do a very convincing job. The fairies don't do much; they are so busy expressing their fairy-ness that don't seem to have time to be anything else--like interesting characters for example. While we do see the fairies on screen once in a while, they tend to be a McGuffin (an object or device in a work of fiction that serves merely as a trigger for the plot) rather that something that affects the story directly.
What wins me over so much in this movie is the sets. We're in post-World War I England and the sets and costumes are astoundingly convincing! We get some gorgeous views of the British countryside, some old cottages and buildings that were probably built before the early 1900's and are likely still standing and functional today. The Wright family cottage looks highly detailed but has a very believable lived-in feel to it. It really captures the lifestyle of the time and looks so pleasant and quaint.
FairyTale: A True Story is a nice, cute, innocent story that features some pretty good actors, some amazing sets, an acceptable script, an interesting theme which draws no discernible conclusion, and some decent special effects which seem only slightly dated sixteen years later. This is a nice, clean movie that the whole family can watch. Children will not be concerned by the vagueness of the theme or with the questions the movie doesn't quite answer. If you've got kids at home this is worth catching on NetFlix Instant Play to watch with them. Overall it's not a bad movie, but I wouldn't spend money on purchasing a copy.

I like the idea of a movie based on a famous hoax. I would love to see a movie about Orson Well's 1938 War of the Worlds Broadcast, where everyone thought the world actually was being invaded my Martians. A movie about that production and the ensuing panic would be really interesting. What's another famous historical hoax you would like to see a movie about? Comment below and tell me all about it!

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