FairyTale: A True Story

Last updated

FairyTale: A True Story
Fairytale a true story.jpg
North American theatrical release poster
Directed by Charles Sturridge
Produced by Bruce Davey
Wendy Finerman
Screenplay byErnie Contreras
Story byAlbert Ash
Tom McLoughlin
Ernie Contreras
Music by Zbigniew Preisner
Cinematography Michael Coulter
Edited byPeter Coulson
Icon Productions
Icon Entertainment International
Wendy Finerman Productions
Anna K. Production C.V. [1]
Distributed by Paramount Pictures
(United States)
Warner Bros. [2] [3]
Release date
24 October 1997 (United States)
Running time
99 minutes
CountriesUnited States
Box office$18 million

FairyTale: A True Story is a 1997 French-American [4] fantasy drama film directed by Charles Sturridge and produced by Bruce Davey and Wendy Finerman. It is loosely based on the story of the Cottingley Fairies. Its plot takes place in the year 1917 in England, and follows two children who take a photograph soon believed to be the first scientific evidence of the existence of fairies. The film was produced by Icon Productions and was distributed by Paramount Pictures in the United States and by Warner Bros. internationally. [2] [3]



Early 20th-century Europe was a time and a place rife with conflicting forces, from the battlefields of World War I to the peaceful countryside of rural England. Scientific advances such as electric light and photography appeared magical to some; spiritualism was championed by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle while his friend Harry Houdini decried false mediums who prey upon grieving families. J.M. Barrie's Peter Pan charmed theatergoers of all ages. Young Frances Griffiths, whose father is missing in action, arrives by train to stay with her cousin Elsie Wright in rural Bradford, West Yorkshire.

Polly Wright, Elsie's mother, is deep in mourning for her son Joseph, a gifted artist who died at the age of ten, and she keeps Joseph's room and art works intact. Elsie is not allowed to wear colours or to play with his toys, but she has taken the unfinished fairy-house he built up to her garret bedroom where her doting father, Arthur, regales her with fairy tales. He is a bit of a local hero, responsible for the electrification of the local mill, where children as young as Elsie go to work. He is also an amateur photographer and chess player. When Frances arrives she and Elsie discover a shared fascination with fairies, whom they encounter down at the "beck", a nearby brook. They abscond with Arthur's camera one afternoon to take pictures of the fairies, hoping to give Polly something to believe in. When she comes home after attending a meeting of the Theosophical Society, where she hears stories of angels and all sorts of ethereal beings, she finds Arthur reviewing the prints in disbelief, but she thinks they are real. She takes them to Theosophist lecturer E.L. Gardner, who has them analysed by a professional and then brings them to the attention of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. The photos are pronounced genuine, or at least devoid of trickery.

No one except Houdini believes that young children could be capable of photographic fraud, and Conan Doyle himself arrives at the girls' home with Houdini, Gardner and two new cameras. Arthur catches Houdini poking around and tells him point-blank that he doesn't believe that the fairies are real, but that no trickery took place in his darkroom either. Abetted by the buffoonish Gardner, Elsie and Frances soon come up with two more photos and Conan Doyle has the story published in The Strand Magazine , promising everyone's names will be changed. But a newsman soon identifies the beck in Cottingley, tracing the girls through the local school and besieging the family. Hundreds of people invade the village in automobiles and on foot, and the fairies flee the obstreperous mobs. By way of apology to the fairies, the girls finish Joseph's fairy-house and leave it in the forest as a gift.

The girls are invited to London by Conan Doyle, where they embrace their celebrity and see Houdini perform. In a quiet moment backstage Houdini asks Elsie if she wants to know how he does his tricks, and she wisely declines. And when a reporter asks, he declaims, "Masters of illusion never reveal their secrets!" Back in Yorkshire, while the girls and Polly are away, Arthur has a chess match with a local champion reputed to be mute, and the newsman breaks into their house. He discovers a cache of paper dolls in the form of fairies in a portfolio in Joseph's room, but he is frightened away by the apparition of a young boy, leaving the evidence behind. Arthur wins his match, wringing a shout from his opponent, and another myth is debunked. After the children return home, the fairies reappear, and finally, Frances' father comes home as well.



In 1920 Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the creator of Sherlock Holmes, who had developed a strong belief in spiritualism in the last third of his life, was commissioned by the Strand Magazine to write an article on fairies, and it was while preparing this article that he first heard of the Cottingley Fairies. In 1922 he published The Coming of the Fairies, [5] which included numerous photographs and extensive discussion. Magician Harry Houdini publicly exposed the many fraudulent mediums he discovered during his search for a genuine medium who could help him communicate with his late mother. The two maintained a friendship for several years, exchanging several letters about supernatural phenomena.

Filming and production

Much of the film was shot on location in the Cottingley, Bingley and Keighley in the City of Bradford. [6] [7] Filming locations include Cottingley Town Hall, Cottingley Beck, and Keighley railway station along with the rest of the Keighley and Worth Valley Railway. [7] The cinematography was by Michael Coulter, with art direction by Sam Riley. The film was produced by Mel Gibson's production company Icon Productions and Gibson appears in an uncredited cameo as Frances' father.


The film was released in the United States on 24 October 1997. It had its UK premiere in Bradford, the city it was filmed and set in, on 8 February 1998. [6] It was shown simultaneously at the Pictureville Cinema (which is based in the National Science and Media Museum), and Bradford Odeon opposite. [6] It was released in the UK on 13 February. [8]


FairyTale: A True Story received mixed reviews from critics, as it holds a rating of 57% on Rotten Tomatoes from 23 reviews. [9]

The film grossed just over $14 million in the US and Canada. [10] In the UK, the film grossed £2.4 million ($4 million) [8] for a worldwide total of over $18 million.

See also

Related Research Articles

Cottingley Fairies Faked photographs of fairies by Elsie Wright and Frances Griffiths

The Cottingley Fairies appear in a series of five photographs taken by Elsie Wright (1901–1988) and Frances Griffiths (1907–1986), two young cousins who lived in Cottingley, near Bradford in England. In 1917, when the first two photographs were taken, Elsie was 16 years old and Frances was 9. The pictures came to the attention of writer Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who used them to illustrate an article on fairies he had been commissioned to write for the Christmas 1920 edition of The Strand Magazine. Doyle, as a spiritualist, was enthusiastic about the photographs, and interpreted them as clear and visible evidence of psychic phenomena. Public reaction was mixed; some accepted the images as genuine, others believed that they had been faked.

Harry Houdini American illusionist, escapologist, and stunt performer

Harry Houdini was a Hungarian-born American escape artist, illusionist, stunt performer and mysteriarch, noted for his escape acts.

Adrian Conan Doyle Son of Arthur Conan Doyle

Adrian Malcolm Conan Doyle was the youngest son of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and his second wife Jean, Lady Doyle or Lady Conan Doyle. He had two siblings, sister Jean Conan Doyle and brother Denis, as well as two half-siblings, sister Mary and brother Kingsley.

<i>A Study in Terror</i> 1965 film by James Hill

A Study in Terror is a 1965 British horror thriller film directed by James Hill and starring John Neville as Sherlock Holmes and Donald Houston as Dr. Watson. It was filmed at Shepperton Studios, London, with some location work at Osterley House in Middlesex.

<i>Photographing Fairies</i> 1997 British film directed by Nick Willing

Photographing Fairies is a 1997 British fantasy film based on Steve Szilagyi's 1992 novel Photographing Fairies. The film explores some of the themes of folklore, such as possession, paganism, animism, hallucinogens, parapsychology and fairies. It was inspired by the Cottingley Fairies hoax, and was released in the United Kingdom on 19 September 1997.

Arthur Ford (psychic)

Arthur Ford was an American psychic, spiritualist medium, clairaudient, and founder of the Spiritual Frontiers Fellowship (1955). He gained national attention when he claimed to have contacted the dead son of Bishop James Pike in 1967 on network TV. In 1928 Ford claimed to have contacted the deceased spirits of Houdini's mother and later in 1929 Harry Houdini himself.

Cottingley, Bradford Village in West Yorkshire, England

Cottingley is a suburban village within the City of Bradford in West Yorkshire, England between Shipley and Bingley. It is known for the Cottingley Fairies, which appeared in a series of photographs taken there during the early 20th century.

Small Worlds (<i>Torchwood</i>) 2006 Torchwood episode

"Small Worlds" is the fifth episode of the first series of the British science fiction television series Torchwood, which was originally broadcast on the digital television channel BBC Three on 12 November 2006.

<i>The Arcanum</i> (novel)

The Arcanum is a 2005 novel by Thomas Wheeler. Set in 1919 it concerns the last case of occult-busters Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Harry Houdini, H. P. Lovecraft, and voodoo queen Marie Laveau.

Arthur Conan Doyle British detective fiction author

Sir Arthur Ignatius Conan Doyle was a British writer and physician. He created the character Sherlock Holmes in 1887 for A Study in Scarlet, the first of four novels and fifty-six short stories about Holmes and Dr. Watson. The Sherlock Holmes stories are milestones in the field of crime fiction.

The Fairy Investigation Society was a semi-secret occult group devoted to collecting evidence and information about the existence of fairies, as well as to organize documented instances of fairy sightings. The society was founded in Britain in 1927 by Capt. Sir Quentin C.A. Craufurd, MBE and the artist Bernard Sleigh.

Geoffrey Crawley was a photographic expert and journalist, and was the editor in chief of British Journal of Photography for two decades. He was noted for exposing the photographs of the Cottingley Fairies taken in the early 20th century as a hoax.

<i>The Man from Beyond</i> 1922 film by Burton L. King

The Man from Beyond is a 1922 American silent mystery film starring Harry Houdini as a man found frozen in arctic ice who is brought back to life.

<i>Houdini</i> (1998 film)

Houdini is a 1998 television film about the life of the magician Harry Houdini, directed and written by Pen Densham. It stars Johnathon Schaech, Stacy Edwards, Paul Sorvino and David Warner. It debuted on the TNT Network in December 1998.

Daniel Stashower is an American author and editor of mystery fiction and historical nonfiction. He lives in Maryland.

Houdini & Doyle is a British-Canadian-American television drama series loosely based on the real-world friendship of Harry Houdini and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. A 10-episode first season was ordered by Fox in the United States, ITV in the United Kingdom, and Global in Canada. The pilot episode was written by co-creators David Hoselton and David Titcher. The first episode was broadcast simultaneously on ITV and ITV Encore on Sunday 13 March 2016.

Photographing Fairies is a novel by Steve Szilagyi. Taking place in the 1920s, the novel is loosely based on the story of the Cottingley Fairies and includes Arthur Conan Doyle as a minor character. The story dwells on themes such as magic, human sexuality, photography, and human perception.

Ada Besinnet

Ada Maud Besinnet Roche (1890–1936) also known as Ada Bessinet was an American spiritualist medium.

<i>The Cottingley Secret</i>

The Cottingley Secret is a 2017 fantasy novel written by British novelist Hazel Gaynor, in which she retells the story behind the Cottingley fairies from 1917. This novel intermingles the real events that occurred in 1917 with a fictional story set in 2017. The Cottingley Fairies were made famous through a series of photographs taken from 1917 to 1921 by two young girls of nine and sixteen years old—Frances Griffiths and Elsie Wright—in Cottingley, England. The story became renowned worldwide mainly because of the intervention of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle who took particular interest on the fairy photographs and tale. The photographs, which depict the two girls in the company of fairies, were originally published in Doyle's article written in 1920 for Strand Magazine, but can be found in other articles as well since the matter of their copyright has been largely disputed.


  1. "Fairytale A True Story (1997)". Bfi.org.uk. Retrieved 31 October 2017.
  2. 1 2 "Fairy Tale: A True Story (1997) - Overview - TCM.com". Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved 31 October 2017.
  3. 1 2 "FAIRYTALE: A TRUE STORY - Filmbankmedia". Filmbankmedia.com. Retrieved 31 October 2017.
  4. "Detail view of Movies Page". Afi.com. Retrieved 31 October 2017.
    • Conan Doyle, Arthur (2006) [1922], The Coming of the Fairies, University of Nebraska Press, ISBN   978-0-8032-6655-1
  5. 1 2 3 "A Premiere Performance". Bradford Telegraph and Argus. 9 February 1998. Retrieved 4 April 2021.
  6. 1 2 "Fairy Tale: A True Story". Bradford Film Heritage. Retrieved 4 April 2021.
  7. 1 2 "British biz at the box office". Variety . 14 December 1998. p. 72.
  8. "Fairy Tale: A True Story (1997)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 30 June 2021.
  9. "Fairy Tale: A True Story (1997) - Box Office Mojo". Boxofficemojo.com. Retrieved 31 October 2017.