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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.
Ishka Bibl!
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on August 14, 2004
'Death is merely a change of state. The soul is a fresh expression of the self. The dead are not dust. They really are only a footfall away.'

It is the ensuing years after World War I, and Charles Castle (Toby Stephens) is eking out a living as a photographer in London after having spent time in the trenches of Europe, photographing dead soldiers for posterity. Before the war, in 1912, he was married in Switzerland, but due to a mountain climbing tragedy, became a widower before the honeymoon was over. He has become a mere shell of a man, going through the motions of everyday life, and unceasing in his wait for the day that he himself will cease to exist. His function in this life has been to debunk the world of the supernatural and all who claim to make contact with the spirit world.

At one such function, sponsored by the Theosophical Society, he lays waste to a set of photographs purporting to show two young girls with fairies dancing around them. A woman who attended the same function comes to his studio, showing photos of a different calibre -- a little girl with a fairy obscured, standing on the end of her hand. Castle readily pooh poohs this display, and the woman leaves, satisfied and yet unfulfilled in her quest. Before long, Castle comes to realize, through a series of experiments, that there is a great deal of truth being portrayed in that photograph, and hence, he makes it his goal to travel to Birkenwell to confront his own demons and solve the mystery of life and death as we know it.

Photographing Fairies is a variation on a theme of a famous incident that happened in England in 1917 involving two young girls, Frances Griffiths and Elsie Wright of Cottingley, who claimed to have taken photographs of fairies in their garden. These photos were seized upon by no other than Sir Arthur Conan Doyle of Sherlock Holmes fame in 1921, and bandied about as absolute proof of theosophist theories that he was attracted to. Final proof of the girls and their duplicity was revealed in 1983, when Elsie wrote her famous confession and Frances followed suit. The article was posted in The Times.

Photographing Fairies is definitely not a film for children. It was released the same year as another film about fairies, Fairy Tale: A True Story, but is miles apart in telling a tale of fantasy and awe. While the latter asks us to believe that all we see happened as it was filmed, there is obviously a great deal of artistic license that is projected. Photographing Fairies differs for it asks us as viewers to take it or leave it as we see fit. It is a much darker story and obviously not a fairy tale with a happy ending, except in the mind of Charles Castle as he races on a course with death. It is truly a shame that this film was lost in the shuffle of Fairy Tale, for while both have their good points, Photographing Fairies has an absolute stranglehold on a story with teeth in it.

Toby Stephens plays Charles Castle as an enigma, and in doing so, has provided us with an entirely convincing performance. Emily Woof as Linda, governess to the little girls, Clara and Ana Templeton (Hannah Bould and Miriam Grant) is effective in her pursuit to keep Charles in this world and not the next. The girls are etched in innocence and peace of mind and never did one get the feeling that they were witnessing 'acting' by precocious children. Ben Kingsley as Reverend Templeton provides a strange and calculated portrayal, moving from frame to frame, changing his spots like a leopard, until the final denouement between Castle and himself in the forest. Edward Hardwicke as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle is simply doing what he does best; lending credence to a marvelous block of acting as has been his wont over a long and illustrious career. It's too bad that his role was so short in this film.

Nick Willing and Chris Harrald have taken the novel of the same name by Steve Szilagyi and worked miracles with it. The novel was simply an armature for an interpretation that is a vast improvement on a slight undertaking by Mr. Szilagyi. The better story is provided with the film, for complexities of human nature are betrayed that never quite see the light of day in the book. Both Willing and Harrald are relative newcomers to the world of film, but if Photographing Fairies is any indication of what stuff they are made of, then a productive, creative and applause filled road is theirs to travel.

The photography by John de Borman is exquisite and the English countryside, along with the Swiss Alps, have never been shown to lovelier advantage. There is an impressionistic quality to it all, as we are drawn into the fabric of the story.

When it first opened, critics made a great deal out of the fact that the visuals of the fairies had none of the requisite necessities that were needed to make the viewer think that they were actually seeing the agreed upon subject. What nitpicking! They failed to understand that only a visual was pertinent to the crux of the situation, and not a high tech, state of the art blow out. The merest hint of 'it's there' was all that was needed and it was achieved in spades.

Music by Simon Boswell was evocative of time and place and it shared mood duties with the death dirge of Beethoven's Seventh Symphony, which is played to full effect and in compliance with Castle's life and eventual fate. If there is a dry eye to be had at the conclusion of this film, then the person they belong to, has no heart or soul.

This reviewer was intrigued and swept away, into the world of make believe and what if's. The logical and yet as we know and are taught it, irrationality of the subject, melded together to present for our considerations, a well thought out and richly veined tale that stays with us long after the credits have rolled, the music has stopped and we have left the theatre. We are left with the possibilities of probabilities as we would like to think them to be. We are entreated entrance into a world of simple things and knowing souls who will guide us to another world where things will be complacent and serene, if we just believe.

Photographing Fairies is that rare commodity that comes along and stays with us like a cool breeze on a summer's day, and is just as quickly gone to adjust its policies. A seed has been planted and the questions we are left with take us back to a time of innocence, longing and understanding. Is there a place, a clearing, a glen that houses such things? We can only wish...
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Note: If you live in the America's you must have a multi-region DVD player to watch this one.

Introduction: `Photographing Fairies' is an obscure British film from '98 that to my knowledge was never released to American theaters. It was available in limited quantities on VHS but has yet to appear on a REGION 1 DVD.

This probably shouldn't be too surprising when you look at the subject matter of the film. Unlike the Emerald Isles who have an ancient and ongoing oral and written tradition concerning the "wee folk", American audiences are vastly untutored in the topic of the intangible realm of the "Secret Commonweath" and its myriad of inhabitants. Tales of fairies, elves, undines and fauns are not something that would normally dwell in the psyche of U. S. natives. For this reason more than any other 'Photographing Fairies' remains all but unknown on this side of the Atlantic Ocean. This magical realm of existence is something unfortunately lacking in this country.

Synopsis: Set in the early years of the 20th century (1917) widower Charles Castle (Toby Stephens) has come to the ultimate moment of truth in his search to discover tangible proof for the existence of the soul and life after death. Is the passage to the world beyond found within the pungent buds of a very special flower? And if so what is the role to be played by the winged guardians of these flowers and the tree upon which they grow? Are they truly connected to the realm of the dead? Mr. Castle seems to think so.

Critique: `Photographing Fairies' delivers a beguiling, at times hallucinogenic vision of the rich and textured borderland between the physical, the psychic and what lies beyond. The production values are superior, the storyline well-conceived and layered with various levels of meaning and the visuals are absolutely haunting. Without a doubt this is one of my favorite films! So far it's only been available on a now OOP VHS tape and this REGION 2, Full Screen version DVD.
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on April 10, 2005
I have seen this a couple times on the SciFi channel and each time I found it more fascinating. I wish it were available on DVD so I could purchase it. One of the better movies about fairies from an adult perspective. The movie examines fairies from a photographers eyes based on a true story that took place after WWI. Depressed from his wifes death and what he saw during the war his life is full of skepticism.

When the photographer Charles Castle debunks a fairy photograph at a gathering, a lady comes to his studio and asks him to examine some photographs she took. He does so skeptically, but when he sees something in the eyes of the little girl in the photograph his skepticism begins to change to hope. He goes to the town where the photos were taken to see if it is really possible there are fairies.

He is to late to talk in depth to the lady because she has commited suicide. Her daughters are enchanting, but her husband Reverend Templeton is jealous and threatens his life. Castle is happy to pay for the death of Reverend Templeton with his life for he now knows it means he will be with his wife again. The music is enchanting throughout and is especially compelling at the end of the movie. It is an inspiring study from a psychological and philosophical view of love, life, and death. I highly recommend it. The cast is excellent with superb performances by Toby Stephens, Ben Kingsley, and Harvey Keitel.
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on July 13, 2007
This is more for adults than children. There is a similar movie by Disney, "Fairy Tale", that is geared towards kids. This one explores a tragic fiction version of the story. This one tells it from a photographer, played by Toby Stevens, perspective. He becomes involved with the mother of the girls that see the fairies. The father, played by Ben Kingsley, is jealous and tragedy results. I highly recommend the movie. The cinematography and music are exceptional and the acting is excellent. Wonderful directing and casting pay off in this fictional version of a true story that happened during WWI. I would love to see this available on a Region 1 DVD.
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on July 13, 2003
This is truely a stunning film. The cinematrophy is beautiful and epic and is only dwarfed by the truest and humblest plot that any film can recognize. That being "We are re-united with the things we have loved and lost in this life". It is the ultimate in understanding and comfort to know this. The film portrays it in a beautiful manner showing the undying committment of a skeptic photographer to his recently deceased wife. It is in the forest he discovers this truth "that the one's we love; the one's that reside in death are but truly a heart beat away from us." Those of us that have loved and lost and have paid the ultimate price for such loss will surely take comfort in seeing this film and realizing that hope doth spring eternal.
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on September 12, 1999
Hauntingly beautiful. This movie is decadent in its layers of moving music, dramatic cinematography, compelling characters and the questions it puts to us about reality and fantasy. I particularly enjoyed the historical portrayal of England at the beginning of this century. The use of veil throughout the film is reflective of the point that what we seek is often very close to us while still remaining obscure. Enjoy!
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I was pleasantly surprised with the costume design of this movie. However, the lighting was a disappointment. Many times, the light reflection on the glasses of Charles Worth (Toby Stephens) prevented one from enjoying his acting. I thought that Ben Kingsley displayed a fine control of his emotions although he did at times appear to be a little stagey. Emily Woof was warm and sincere in her protrayal and the 2 children were sweet and mysterious. Toby Stephens displayed an acute sense of characterisation. His stiff upper lipped Englishman was excellantly portrayed. His descent into despair, and the desperate need to understand as well as his deep loneliness and sense of loss was touching. This movie was wonderful in it's exploration of the idea of a life beyond death.
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Note: If you live in the America's you must have a multi-region DVD player to watch this one.

Introduction: `Photographing Fairies' is an obscure British film from '98 that to my knowledge was never released to American theaters. It was available in limited quantities on VHS but has yet to appear on a REGION 1 DVD.

This probably shouldn't be too surprising when you look at the subject matter of the film. Unlike the residents of the Emerald Isles who have an ancient and ongoing oral and written tradition concerning the "wee folk", American audiences are vastly untutored in the topic of the intangible realm of the "Secret Commonweath" and its myriad of inhabitants. Tales of fairies, elves, undines and fauns are not something that would normally dwell in the psyche of U. S. natives. For this reason more than any other 'Photographing Fairies' remains all but unknown on this side of the Atlantic Ocean. This magical realm of existence is something unfortunately lacking in this country.

Synopsis: Set in the early years of the 20th century (1917) widower Charles Castle (Toby Stephens) has come to the ultimate moment of truth in his search to discover tangible proof for the existence of the soul and life after death. Is the passage to the world beyond found within the pungent buds of a very special flower? And if so what is the role to be played by the winged guardians of these flowers and the tree upon which they grow? Are they truly connected to the realm of the dead? Mr. Castle seems to think so.

Critique: `Photographing Fairies' delivers a beguiling, at times hallucinogenic vision of the rich and textured borderland between the physical, the psychic and what lies beyond. The production values are superior, the storyline well-conceived and layered with various levels of meaning and the visuals are absolutely haunting. Without a doubt this is one of my favorite films! So far it's only been available on a now OOP VHS tape and this REGION 2, Full Screen version DVD.
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Parting the veil of the everyday world, this marvelous film transports the viewer into another, perhaps deeper reality ... a reality not without its dangers, but capable of transcendence, and the possibility of finding love thought forever lost. Offering gorgeous images, provocative ideas both philosophical and theological, and subtle, restrained performances, this film is a treasure deserving of wider exposure. For those who have been touched to the soul by that one perfect love, this story will resonate like an ethereal bell of purest shimmering crystal. See it - and you'll want to own it, to watch again and again.
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