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Film / FairyTale: A True Story

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Fairy Tale: A True Story is a 1997 film about two young girls, Elsie (Florence Hoath) and her cousin Frances (Elizabeth Earl), who claim to play with fairies. One day, to prove to Elsie's parents that they aren't making it up, the girls take several photographs of them. Shocked, her mother takes the photos to an expert and they are declared genuine. Word gets out, and the girls become instant celebrities and the press and fairy hunters descend on their home.

The film also stars Harvey Keitel as Harry Houdini and Peter O'Toole as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.


Provides Examples Of:

  • Age Lift: Elsie is twelve in the film but was sixteen in real life. Frances was also nine but gets bumped down to eight.
  • Agent Mulder: Pollie Wright desperately wants to believe in the fairies' existence.
  • Agent Scully: Harry Houdini's portrayal in the film (and in Real Life as well). Played with as Harry Houdini refuses to debunk the girls in the film because he doesn't want to subject a pair of innocent girls to the resulting media scrutiny. He's also reluctant (but more determined) to challenge his friend, Arthur Conan Doyle's, spiritualist beliefs because he feels his friend is being taken advantage of.
  • Artistic Licence – History: Aside from the fairies being shown as real, there's...
    • Elsie was sixteen as opposed to twelve. This is presumably why you don't see any of the real photographs of Elsie - because she looked it in real life. Frances is said to be eight in the film, but she was nine when she went to stay with the Wrights.
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    • Frances' mother is dead in the film. She was alive and well in real life, and stayed with the Wrights as Frances did.
    • The photographs didn't become public until 1919 - after World War I was over. The Theosophical Society meeting Polly Wright went to was on fairy life itself, as opposed to angels. And the second set of photographs was taken in 1920 - when Frances was already back living with her family.
    • Harry Houdini did not visit Cottingley with Sir Arthur, nor did the girls meet him in real life. He also never endorsed the idea that the fairies were real, and didn't even start his debunkings until the 1920s.
  • As You Know: Frances and Elsie quiz each other on fairy lore as a convenient way to explain to the audience.
  • Based on a Great Big Lie: In this case the lie itself is the story. The real Elsie later confessed that the photos were faked, though Frances jokingly said that the fairies were real - a sentiment her daughter shared.
  • Belief Makes You Stupid: A subplot between Harry Houdini and Arthur Conan Doyle (based on Real Life) is that the latter is desperate to believe in the supernatural due to the death of his son. Whether it's fairies, ghosts, or psychic phenomenon. Harry, as a professional debunker, is sympathetic but troubled by his friend's obsession. Notable for the fact this is a more sympathetic take on the subject than normal and a Lighter and Softer take on what happened in real life (where Houdini and Doyle's friendship collapsed).
  • Beware the Nice Ones:
    • Frances is a normally nice girl but, when an ignorant classmate asks if everyone in Africa is a cannibal, she deadpans "any more stupid questions?"
    • Both Frances and Elsie have no problem sassing Mr Ferrett when he tries to threaten information out of them.
  • Blitz Evacuees: A variation. Although it is set during World War I when there was no Blitz, Frances' situation is quite similar.
  • Character Name Alias: When the story is published in The Strand magazine, the girls' names are changed to Alice and Iris.
  • Cheerful Child: Frances is more lively and cheerful than Elsie.
  • City Mouse: Averted. When Frances comes to Cottingley, the rest of the girls at school are the ones shown as ignorant.
  • Color-Coded for Your Convenience: Elsie mostly wears black clothes to symbolize she is still mourning her brother. The first time she wears white is when Sir Arthur comes to visit. Afterwards she is shown wearing more colors.
  • Composite Character: Edward Gardener was merely the chairman of the Theosophical Society. The movie combines him with the speaker who was at the meeting Polly Wright attended, for convenience purposes.
  • Conflict Ball: Numerous tourists and fairy hunters trampling the beck searching for the fairies momentarily leads the girls to believe the fairies won't speak to them again. They're wrong.
  • Death by Adaptation: Frances' mother. In reality she went to live with the Wrights along with Frances.
  • Fairy Companion: Well duh.
  • Fiery Redhead: Inverted. Elsie is the redhead but is the quiet one while Frances is the Fiery Blonde.
  • Facial Horror: The soldier whom Frances befriends on the train suffered extreme wounds to his face, which for most people must be offputting. She's completely undeterred though, and he thanks her later by chasing off a nasty reporter who'd been harassing her, coming to hear that fairies are real.
  • The Ghost: Frances' father is entirely an off-screen character, off fighting in the war and it left in doubt whether he's missing or dead. Until the end.
  • Gilligan Cut: A scene after The Strand article is published has Pollie reassuring her husband that with the names changed and location kept secret, "no one will know it's us". Cut to Mr Ferrett finding out the possible places from an expert.
  • Growing Up Sucks: Defied by Elsie in her speech at the end. She says that growing up only sucks if you do it the wrong way.
  • Guardian Angel: Elsie's deceased brother Joseph is implied to be the family's. The topic comes up later when a sick boy wants the girls to ask the fairies to cure his sickness.
    Elsie: Fairies can't make you feel better. You'll have to ask your Guardian Angel to do that.
  • Hate Sink: Mr Ferrett is a narrow-minded journalist who goes to absurd lengths to prove the fairy story is false - including ambushing the two girls when they're alone in the Beck, harassing Arthur multiple times and breaking into the bedroom of a dead child to look for dirt. He exists solely so he can get repeated comeuppance.
  • The High Queen: Alluded to with the fairies' Queen Mab. When we see her, she appears to be a noble and ladylike creature implied to have brought Frances' father home from the war.
  • Historical Domain Character: Both Houdini and Doyle.
  • House Fey: Initially just in the beck behind the house but they eventually visit the house. The Wright's landlord at one point jokes to Sir Arthur that the fairies are technically his tenants as well.
  • Irony: Mr Ferrett sneaks into the Wright house to uncover evidence that the photographs were faked. He finds it in Joseph's room - where the cutouts and drawings are. But as he finds this, he experiences a genuine supernatural phenomenon. As a result, he's scared away when he has all the proof he needs.
  • Intergenerational Friendship:
    • Frances makes friends with a corporal who's missing an eye on her trip to Yorkshire, playing cat's cradle with him on the train. He later recognises her from the photographs and comes back to save her and Elsie from the journalists.
    • Also Elsie and Houdini sort of hit it off when the girls are invited to London. He offers her advice on preserving their secret.
  • Low Fantasy: The film presents the possibility that fairies and guardian angels exist in an otherwise grounded and realistic rural English setting.
  • Missing Mom: Frances' mother is dead. When Aunt Pollie tucks her in, they look at a photo of a woman and Pollie says "I miss her too".
  • One-Steve Limit: Averted. There's Arthur Wright and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.
  • The Oner: Towards the end where the fairies fly through the garden, up and down the chimney and into the Wrights' living room.
  • Oop North: In the form of Cottingley, Yorkshire.
  • Our Angels Are Different:
    • Mr. Gardener gives a talk about angels as part of his movement. Specifically, he talks about the Angels of Mons, and introduces a soldier who says he saw them.
    • If we take Joseph's brief appearance at the end, angels can also be deceased loved ones watching over their families - who are normally invisible but can appear if they want.
  • Our Fairies Are Different: Essentially most of them appear as the standard Winged Humanoid type, though one is shown having a tail like a mermaid and a miniature horse is also seen.
  • The Pollyanna: Frances is eternally positive and cheerful, convinced that her father will return to her soon.
  • Posthumous Character: Joseph died before the film started, but his loss still hangs over his parents and sister throughout.
  • Red Oni, Blue Oni: Frances is the impulsive and excitable Red, Elsie is the sensible and rational Blue.
  • Shrinking Violet: Elsie is very quiet and withdrawn, though only because she's still grieving for her brother.
  • Supernatural-Proof Father: Arthur Wright, which is true to real life. He doesn't believe until he sees a fairy at the end.
  • Uptight Loves Wild: A non-romantic example. Elsie is uptight while Frances is wild.
  • Very Loosely Based on a True Story: The film is the story of The Cottingley Fairies, which is followed pretty close to fact - except those were definitely fake, while this film leaves the veracity of the girls' photographs uncertain. There are actual fairies shown, but so are painted paper cutouts, and we never see the girls taking the photographs. It's strongly implied that Joseph had made numerous paper cutouts modeled on real fairies, and the girls set up and photographed his art — since the real ones either didn't show up on film or were offended by the idea of having their pictures taken.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: The reporter who sneaks into the house and finds the cut-outs of the fairies gets scared off, but we never find out what became of him. Especially since the photos weren't exposed as fakes until the 1980s.
  • World War I: The film takes place in England during the war.

Alternative Title(s): Fairytale