Top positive review
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Beautiful in every way
on July 28, 2001
In 1997 there were two movies made about English children who take pictures of fairies. One, Fairy Tale: A True Story, was released to wide audiences and charmed many as an intelligent kid's flick. This story was based on fact, hence the subtitle. The other, Photographing Fairies, was only selectively released on video here in the States, aimed at an adult audience. It deals with a fictional reimagining of the Cottingley fairy incident portrayed in Fairy Tale, as seen through the cynical eyes of a photographer bent on proving the girls false. Charles Castle, spiritually wounded by the death of his bride, tries to disprove the pictures using logic and a camera, but soon finds that there is more to the story than he had bargained on.
Although I was charmed by Fairy Tale, Photographing Fairies is the movie that holds a special place in my heart. I have watched it more times than I can count, and still manage to be surprised and touched by this haunting film. This is everything that is good about high-quality cinema - good acting, interesting story, FANTASTIC soundtrack (which doesn't seem to exist on CD!), and an intelligent look at some rather surprising philosophical questions; also the special effects beat anything in Fairy Tale.
The Acting: This movie was the first time I had seen the young actor Toby Stephens and I was very impressed at the restrained manner in which he chose to go about portraying a character who, in lesser hands, could very well have been bombastic or pitiful. His take on Charles Castle radiates Humanity and feeling, helping the audience understand the unspoken dilemma of mind and heart that he faces. My only complaint is that in many scenes the glasses that Stephens wore reflected the glare of the lights, making it difficult to see his eyes, and creating a distraction in the flow of the frame.
Ben Kingsley and Emily Woof, an old war-horse and a promising actress, also help the film along with convincing parts (the father of the girls and the governess, respectively). Although both of them are not given much to do, dramatically speaking, they too manage to bring a sense of realism to their roles.
The supporting characters, including the girls who's pictures are the catalyst for the action, are also drawn to perfection.
The Story: Although supposedly based on the book of the same name by Steven Szylagi, there are only superficial resemblances. The movie has more of a spiritual base, borrowing only a few names, settings, and narcotic flowers from the book and leaving most of the subplots and devices out.
The Music: Absolutely beautiful. The main theme is played as everything from a dance tune to a funeral dirge, and is almost guarenteed to get stuck in your head for days afterward. The score is very haunting and adds that extra ethereal touch to the total effect of the movie. Also, one side note: the 'death song' is a part of Beethoven's Seventh Symphony, and has been recorded by Sarah Brightman as Figlio Perduto, but seems to be unlisted on the credits...
When one watches a movie that has definite religious undertones, one often feels the pressure coming from one side or another, belief-wise. Part of what I love about Photographing Fairies is that it makes none of those distinctions. The preacher-father seems to be the pastor for some imaginary church, and the heaven ideas can be adapted to suit almost any taste. "What if heaven were as real a place as Claxton on the Sea?"
The real reason that this movie has sat with me for so long, and the reason that I keep returning to it, is another theme running through it. That of learning from love/to love. Linda, the governess, falls for Charles Castle, but Castle refuses here because of his love for his dead wife. Instead of persuing this man, Linda learns from him and sets her sights on "the man who'll love me as much as he loves her". In this age of inevitable cinematic love, this is a refreshing treat and a much more poignant result than another retread of "wounded man is revived by beautiful ingenue".
All in all, Photographing Fairies is a very affecting movie, no matter what your philosophical/religious beliefs are. Give this one a chance and it will surprise you, haunt you, move you.