Reviewed by: Brian Nigro
Starring: Florence Hoath, Elizabeth Earl, Paul McGann, Phoebe Nicholls, Peter O'Toole, Harvey Keitel / Director: Charles Sturridge / Released by: Paramount Pictures
The actual event behind “Fairytale” is that, in 1900’s England, two young girls (played by Florence Hoath and Elizabeth Earl) allegedly photographed live fairies. “Allegedly” is the operative word here, because there was a country-wide debate and sensationalism about the photo’s authenticity and belief in fairies in general. It attracted the attention of British novelist Arthur Conan Doyle (Peter O'Toole) as a believer, and American magician Harry Houdini (Harvey Keitel). That much is true.
Here’s how the story ends (it’s not in the movie): Years later, the two girls confess to the BBC that the whole thing was a hoax. They lied. Given how well-documented this case is—e.g., check your public library for books like “Flim Flam” and “The Spiritualists”—it’s a horribly negligent abuse of artistic license to conveniently gloss over the facts. Especially for a kid’s movie.
That said, yes, “Fairytale” is quite suitable for Christian families. There is virtually no profanity (just one utterance), violence, or adult content. It’s in good company with such contemporary classics as “The Secret Garden” and “A Little Princess”. Like those, however, “Fairytale” hastily brushes aside all Judeo-Christian connotations. Case in point: References to “angels” and “guardian angels” that are inevitably overshadowed by “fairy” talk.
The historical accuracy in “Fairytale” is impeccable. In real life, Harry Houdini really was incensed at spiritual charlatans, who he felt cheapened magic tricks; and, Conan Doyle (author of the Sherlock Holmes books) was a die-hard believer. Furthermore, there really was a Theosophic Society (and still is) that gave public lectures and distributed pamphlets.
On its own artistic merits, “Fairytale” is ultimately deceptive and manipulative. (Director Charles Sturridge is targeting two totally different audiences here with two different themes—childhood imagination and, for the adults, spiritualism.) Compared to garbage like “I Know What You Did Last Summer” and “Kiss The Girls,” though, “Fairytale” deserves a marginal recommendation. Definitely worth seeing.