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The 100




FairyTale: A True Story
(1997)
Reviewed by Arno Mikli
Rating: 6.5 Beans

o you believe that there are fairies at the bottom of your garden? You know, the tiny winged variety found in Enid Blyton novels? No? Well, then this production is not for you.

This film involves a real-life hoax that two young British schoolgirls, Elsie Wright and Frances Griffith, succeeded in pulling off during World War I. They managed to convince a substantial portion of the British public that they had taken photographs of fairies at their home in the English village of Cottingley.

It didn't seem to matter that the fairies bore a haunting resemblance to pictures of 'little folk' found in a popular children's annual of the time (though the film does manage to acknowledge this little coincidence at one point, before disregarding it). Not did it apparently matter that irregularities appeared in the photographs themselves (eg wings on flying fairies that are stationary while there is water in motion in the background). The makers of this film seem to have decided that the photographs were "as genuine as the King's beard", to quote a character from the film, and they took it from there. In the process of resurrecting this hoax, they took the facts of the case and changed them around too - for instance, the hoax was played out over a period of a couple of years, not over one summer as shown in this "true" story.

The film persistently promotes the girls' story, and anyone who disbelieves, well, they are just plain horrible. There's a journalist in this film who seems to represent all sceptics everywhere. Certainly, he's the sole source of staunch scepticism in this film, and he is portrayed quite negatively. Things come to a head between him and the girls when he confronts them at one stage and demands very aggressively to know the truth about the fairies. He gets driven off by outside help and departs like some defeated ogre. Later, he engages in some breaking and entering in search of the truth. He gets to see it, or rather the truth as the film sees it - the fairies scare him off with a bit of hocus pocus.

Some of the scenes given in this account about the fairies are a tad ludricous. The most conspicuous of these would be the film's answer to the question of where the fairies were when the public started looking for them. By way of reply, we see a few of them marching across a road in broad daylight like so many wartime refugees. Apparently, they were not able to leave the area through more paranormal or secretive means. As for their sudden shyness after their public appearance, well.......

Several historical characters appear here. There's Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (Peter O'Toole) enthusiastically vouching for the Cottingley fairies (something he unfortunately also did in real life). Harry Houdini (Harvey Keitel) also appears here to do a few escape acts and provide some largely fence-sitting commentary on the topic of the fairies.

Paul McGann (aka Doctor Who VIII) appears here as Arthur Wright, the father of one of the girls. He is certainly an ironic choice for this role. The portion of the film where he develops the fairy photographs whilst a soldier talks at a town meeting about having seen the Angels of Mons (another bit of World War I flim-flam) is certainly the sort of thing that belongs in a Dr Who story.

Admittedly, there are some nice things to be said for this film. The settings and costumes are quite good, and there is one brief but memorable scene that stays in mind where we see a badly wounded soldier on a train being induced to playing cat's cradle by Frances. It's a pity that all this was wasted on pushing a fairy story.

But the final word on this production and its credibility as a genuine story about fairies must go to Harry Houdini, when he is talking to Doyle : " You need proof if you want to tell the world that you believe in fairies!". You certainly do, and this film did not deliver it.






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