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FairyTale: A True Story

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Initial DVD release
March 31, 1998




Drama, Family, Fantasy

Music director
United Kingdom

FairyTale: A True Story | movie poster

Release date
24 October 1997 (1997-10-24) (US)

Albert Ash (story), Tom McLoughlin (story), Ernie Contreras (story), Ernie Contreras (screenplay)

(Harry Houdini),
Peter O'Toole
(Sir Arthur Conan Doyle),
Joseph May
(Houdini's Assistant),
Lara Morgan
(Jean Doyle),
Adam Franks
(Adrian Doyle),
Guy Witcher
(Denis Doyle)

Similar movies
Happily N'Ever After
Sleeping Beauty


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FairyTale: A True Story is a 1997 French-American 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; it was released in the United States on October 24, 1997.


FairyTale: A True Story | Two young girls (Elizabeth Earl and Florence Hoath) carrying the fairy house|  movie scenes

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FairyTale: A True Story as one of the year's best films | Starring Elizabeth Earl and Florence Hoath | movie poster

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 Yorkshire.

FairyTale: A True Story | Famous, but fraudulent, photo captures an image of the Cottingley Fairies reported by two English girls in the 1920s

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 wunderkind, 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.

FairyTale: A True Story | Two young girls (Elizabeth Earl and Florence Hoath) sitting beside the fairy house | movie scene

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 near 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.

FairyTale: A True Story | A young girl wearing all white having a fairy in front of her

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.


FairyTale: A True Story | Music from the motion picture - music by Zbigniew Preisner; Performed by Sinfonia Varsovia | Movie Album

  • Peter O'Toole as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
  • Florence Hoath as Elsie Wright
  • Elizabeth Earl as Frances Griffiths
  • Harvey Keitel as Harry Houdini
  • Paul McGann as Arthur Wright
  • Bill Nighy as Edward Gardner
  • Phoebe Nicholls as Polly Wright
  • Anna Chancellor as Peter Pan
  • Mel Gibson in an uncredited cameo appearance as Frances' father
  • Background

    FairyTale: A True Story | Florence Hoath and Phoebe Nicholls inside a room | movie scene

    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, 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.


    FairyTale: A True Story | A young girl (Elizabeth Earl) smiling in front of a fairy | movie scene

    Much of the film was shot on location in the Cottingley area. The cinematography is by Michael Coulter the art direction is by Sam Riley.

    The film grossed a little over $14 million in the US

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