[Screen It]


(1997) (Florence Hoath, Elizabeth Earl) (PG)

Blood/Gore Disrespectful/
Bad Attitude
Tense Scenes
Minor Minor Mild Mild Minor
Minor None Mild None Minor
Smoking Tense Family
Topics To
Talk About
None Mild Moderate Mild Minor

Drama: Several photographs of fairies, taken in 1917 England by two young girls who claim they're real, set off a public debate over the photos authenticity and the existence of such beings.
In 1917 England, twelve-year-old Elsie Wright (FLORENCE HOATH) has believed in fairies and other spiritual beings since her brother's death sometime ago. When her eight-year-old cousin, Frances Griffiths (ELIZABETH EARL), comes to stay with her, the two girls set out to photograph the fairies Joseph, her brother, had made drawings of years ago. When they actually capture images of them on film, Elsie's parents, Arthur (PAUL MCGANN) and Polly (PHOEBE NICHOLLS), can't believe it, but they can't dispute the evidence. Polly, who's obsessed with her dead son, gets the photos to E.L. Gardner (BILL NIGHY), a visiting speaker on otherworldly beings who then gives them to famed author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (PETER O'TOOLE). Having also lost a child recently, be believes in spirits and such, much to the doubting amusement of his friend and renowned magician Harry Houdini (HARVEY KEITEL). Soon, however, both men take an interest in the girls and their photos, and a story that Doyle publishes brings national attention to them. Crowds descend upon the wooded creek looking for the fairies, and a ruthless local reporter, John Ferret (TIM MCINNERNY), hounds the family and the two girls looking for answers. From that point on, the girls do what they can to protect their little friends and keep them from being chased away.
Preteen females seem the likely audience, but this film's adult-looking footage, story, and the shortage of on screen fairies will make many kids restless.
For brief mild language.
Other than TIM MCINNERNLY who plays a ruthless and meanspirited reporter, the rest of the cast members and the characters they play appear to be okay role models.


OUR TAKE: 6 out of 10
Based on a "true" event that occurred in 1917, this is a sweet little story that unfortunately will probably prove more enjoyable for parents to watch than for their kids. Those looking for the opposite of the standard "Home Alone" type of entertainment usually thrown out to children, however, need look no farther than this period film. There are no out of control kids, no zany slapstick, and essentially no silly characters. Not so surprisingly, though, that may be the film's undoing as today's kids are used to that type of stimulus and this film might just come across as too stuffy and adult-based for their liking. The targeted audience is also rather narrow, with the material probably too mature looking for preschoolers to understand, while older kids will think the subject's too immature for them. With many boys probably not wanting to see a film about fairies, that pretty much leaves us with an audience of ten-year-old and under girls. That isn't meant to sound like sexual stereotyping, it's just the way it is.

Beyond the film's historical period look that most kids won't appreciate, the movie is hurt the most by the near absence of what the kids have come to see, and that's the fairies. While there are a few scenes with them, they essentially come off as nothing more than strange looking dragonflies and the kids (in the audience) never get to meet them. We do get to see them fly around in a nicely done, special effects laden scene where they zip around the house, but that comes too late in the movie -- it's almost a desperate attempt to make everyone happy before the end credits role. The film makers need to understand that kids want to identify with the fairies as characters, to know something about them, but this film treats the little "people" just like a bunch of specialized insects. While the girls in the film call out to them by name, we never meet them, and they're in such few scenes that kids in our screening got rather restless at times. Add to that a few darkly lit, mysterious scenes where other preschool kids in our audience were scared, and this might not be the best film for such young kids.

For the adults in the audience, the film comes off as okay entertainment. Much of it focuses on skeptics questioning whether the pictures have been doctored -- a quaint notion considering the time setting. We also get to see the characters' amazed reactions at seeing those images. Today's audiences, especially kids, will find this boring since they live in a world where unbelievable computer generated visuals pop off the theater or TV screen at the drop of a hat. Noted historical figures Arthur Conan Doyle and Harry Houdini are present and add some interest, but too much time is focused on them. While I don't claim to know much about the real incident this film's based on, or whether these two men were as actively involved as portrayed, but their time on screen lessens that where the fairies should be instead. O'Toole and Keitel are decent in their portrayals of these men, but their larger than life personas detract our attention. I suppose Houdini's there as the professional skeptic and in real life he often debunked psychics and others trying to take advantage of the unsuspecting masses. As he says in this film, though, the girls aren't trying to make a buck from their find, and thus he leaves them alone. Still, that's an awful lot of time spent with him for nothing to happen. True, they should keep those characters in the story if they were really there. That's never stopped film makers from taking artistic license with the truth, though, and a parring down of their presence would have helped the film.

Newcomers Florence Hoath and Elizabeth Earl are entirely believable in their roles and pleasant to watch, but they, like the fairies, suffer from a lack of time on screen. The story's about them and the fairies and we want to see more of their interaction. All of this is too bad, for they could have fashioned this pleasant little film more to captivate the audience it's geared for, instead of the parents in the crowd. If the film makers had intended this to be an adult look at this true-life story that would have been fine, but one gets the feeling that director Charles Sturridge and screenwriter Ernie Contreras are trying to straddle the fence and please everyone, and the film never manages to impress either kids or their parents adequately. There's not much that's really structurally wrong with the movie, it just doesn't have enough material for kids to keep them entertained. For that reason, we give "Fairy Tale: A True Story" -- a film that should be heading to video stores rather quickly -- a 6 out of 10.

There's nearly nothing to object to in this film, other than the fact that most kids will probably get restless in many scenes. There are a few moments that might be scary to younger children, as several scenes are darkly lit and the kids might not understand what's going on. The prior death of a child is also brought up, and the parents still partially grieve over his death, all of which might be confusing or upsetting to some kids. Beyond that, there's a little bit of drinking and smoking, and just a few minor profanities. Since many younger kids will want to see this, however, we suggest that you read through the content just to make sure it's appropriate for your family.

  • We see wine on the dinner table at one of Houdini's dinner parties.
  • We see Ferret pour himself a little liquor into a glass.
  • People drink wine or champagne at a reception.
  • A person has a beer at a chess match.
  • We twice see a soldier's face that is very torn up and scarred on one side (it's not bloody, just gross looking).
  • Frances takes a camera to photograph the fairies even though Arthur told her to wait before taking it.
  • Ferret has both as he not only intimidates the girls, but he also breaks into their home to snoop around for information.
  • Groups of sightseers descend upon the town after the word gets out about the fairies and not only do they disrupt everything, they also scare the fairies away (as we see them with big nets, etc...with which to catch the fairies).
  • Some parts of the movie are darkly lit and somewhat mysterious looking, and some younger kids in our audience were a bit scared by the uncertainty of what was occurring.
  • Houdini, wearing a straight jacket, is hoisted up into the air by his feet. While not particularly scary or tense for adults or older children, younger children might be concerned. Likewise, when he's later seen struggling to get out of a container of water (again hanging upside down), younger kids might be concerned, confused, and/or scared about what's happening.
  • Frances hears something in the woods, gets a worried look on her face and runs away and then into Ferret, who's rather mean and menacing to her.
  • We see a sickly boy (who's shivering/shaking) ask Elsie if her fairies will make him better. Younger kids might find his appearance unsettling.
  • Ferret sneaks around inside the Wright's home when suddenly the lights go out, the bedroom door closes on its own, several windows fly open and papers begin flying around the room. He then sees Joseph's ghost that then walks over and through him as it leaves the room.
  • Rifle: A land owner fires off his rifle to get the attention of sightseers who are on his land.
  • Phrase: "Cover your ass."
  • The girls drip hot candle wax onto their hands as they form a secret bond where they agree not to expose the fairies anymore.
  • Ferret throws his used cigarette to the ground (littering).
  • None.
  • There are a few scenes with some suspenseful music in them that might get younger kids a bit nervous.
  • None.
  • 1 ass, 1 damn, 1 incomplete "What the..." and 1 use of "Good God" are used as exclamations.
  • None.
  • We see Ferret smoking several times.
  • Some minor characters or people in the backgrounds of shots smoke cigarettes, and we see one soldier smoking a pipe.
  • Elsie mentions her dead brother Joseph (who died of pneumonia), and we see several scenes where her parents are still grieving over losing their son.
  • We learn that Frances' father is "missing" in action during WWI, and while she occasionally looks worried, she doesn't fear what the adults do. It turns out, however, that he isn't dead. We do briefly hear, however, that Frances' mother is dead.
  • Whether fairies, angels, etc... exist, and how this supposedly true story fits in with that.
  • Doyle mentions that he met a medium who contacted his dead son.
  • Child labor laws. In one scene, Elsie asks her father why he made Joseph stop drawing angels. He replies that the boy was eleven and the next year he'd have to go work in the factories and then be more adult-like (at the age of twelve).
  • Ferret grabs Francis and shakes her a tiny bit as he tries to get her to tell him the truth about the fairies.

  • Reviewed October 21, 1997

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