Produced by Mel Gibson’s Icon Productions, Fairy Tale: A True Story is a fictitious take on the true life tale that saw Elsie Wright and Frances Griffith take photographs of what they claimed to be fairies in their garden. The story (known as the Cottingley Fairies) has gone down as one of the great mysteries of the 20th Century, even though later in life both girls admitted to faking the imagery within the photographs.
Charles Sturridge’s film explores the supposition that Elsie and Frances (Florance Hoath and Elizabeth Earl) did indeed discover fairies in their garden and it details the fascination with the event by Harry Houdini and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (played by Harvey Keitel and Peter O’Toole). This keeps many of the bare bones of the real event but adds a fantastical element which makes it a fitting family film.
The Harry Potter movies changed the landscape for family films, upping the action content and the special effects quota.Today Fairy Tale looks rather quaint, but its special effects hold up well and there’s an innocence to the whole thing that makes it feel refreshing in this age of franchise movie making. There’s a great story here and Ernie Contreras’s script goes some way to tease out a lot of the excitement that erupted once the story of the Cottingley Fairies hit the national press. However, Contreras skims over a lot of what could have made this special and sadly Harvey Keitel and Peter O’Toole’s Houdini and Doyle are sidelined in favour of spending more time with Elsie and Frances. That would have made for a very different (and better movie) and we get hints at what this may have been.
Fairy Tale: A True Story is a film for the whole family and while it may feel a little quaint by today’s standards, it’s a captivating story based on fascinating true events. Ultimately, Fairy Tale A True Story is a fairly good telling of a true fairy story.