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Photographing Fairies Movie Review

castle charles kingsley story

FairyTale: A True Story is for kids. Photographing Fairies isn't. Until a miscast Ben Kingsley as Reverend Templeton turns up, it's an intriguing story about photographer Charles Castle (Toby Stephens, then 28), who gets married in Switzerland in 1912 and then takes a honeymoon hike with his lovely bride Anne-Marie (Rachel Shelley). She is swallowed alive by a snow fissure and he is a disconsolate widower. All he can remember her by is an out-of-focus picture of the wedding. He doesn't even know her favorite color. He becomes a cool craftsman, taking battlefield pictures during The Great War and studio portraits after the Armistice (but no weddings). While distributing his business cards at a Theosophical Society meeting, he analyzes a photograph of the Cottingley Fairies and concludes that it's a mere trick of the light, with accessories purchased in shops to complete the illusion. Castle impresses Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (worthily interpreted by Edward Hardwicke, who once played Dr. Watson) while remaining completely unimpressed himself. Then the mother of two other little girls who photograph fairies turns up at his studio one day. She is the soft-voiced, ethereal Beatrice Templeton (Frances Barber). He follows her to her country home and meets her children Clara (Hannah Bould) and Ana (Miriam Grant) and their lovely governess, Linda (Emily Woof). It seems that the fairies convene most often around a craggy old tree that lures Beatrice, the children and, finally Charles himself. For Charles Castle, as for Conan Doyle, a belief in fairies meant that perhaps it was possible to contact loved ones, perhaps they weren't only a dream and/or a mere trick of the light, perhaps they still lived and could communicate with us. This delicate material is not helped by Kingsley's ham-handed approach to it, nor could a rumored 23 drafts of the screenplay have done much more than confuse the filmmaking team, as well as the audience. There are some good performances here (along with one that's way over the top), some attractive rural scenery, and several VERY interesting ideas that desperately needed a fine script doctor to showcase them to full advantage. Based on the novel by Steve Szilagyi. (Mike Newell is among the executive producers.)

1997 (R) 107m/C GB Toby Stephens, Frances Barber, Ben Kingsley, Emily Woof, Philip Davis, Rachel Shelley, Edward Hardwicke, Hannah Bould, Miriam Grant, Clive Merrison; D: Nick Willing; W: Nick Willing, Chris Harrald; C: John de Borman; M: Simon Boswell. VHS

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