1917, and World War I is raging. Back home in England, two small girls take photographs of tiny fairies, which cause an instant sensation - not just in their family, but nationwide. As experts declare the photos genuine, the girls find themselves at the centre of a media circus.
There's no such thing as fairies, is there? So the "true story" of the two girls who reputedly photographed them seems likely to focus on how they managed to fool the world. But the pictures were, and continue to be, a mystery, and the exposure (excuse the pun) of the girls is not what this film is about. It's about magic, belief, hope - things that keep people from despair when the world seems to be going mad.
It's 1917, the world is at war and every day someone learns that a husband or son has been killed, maimed or lost in battle. With her father reported as missing, Frances (Earl) comes to Yorkshire to stay with cousin Elsie (Hoath) and her parents, Arthur (McGann) and Polly (Nicholls). Polly is struggling to come to terms with the death of her son, and tries to discourage the girls from their childish fairy talk. But when Frances actually sees one of these wee creatures, the girls decide to take photos to cheer Polly up.
Suddenly, everyone is interested. The photos are tested and declared genuine, and the world, led by Arthur Conan Doyle (Peter O'Toole, stylish as ever) comes to find fairies and bring some magic into their lives. Meanwhile, Houdini (Harvey Keitel) is wowing London with his escapology, as images of his own brand of magic are intercut with the main story.
And this is clearly Sturridge's interest: the conflict between magic and science, the need for belief versus the bare, cold truth. Juxtapositioning beautiful shots of idyllic English countryside and images of disfigured soldiers back from the War, theatrical illusions and fairies by the stream, he brushes aside the questions of cynics. Does it matter how things are done - in books, on stage, in the cinema - if they bring happiness and hope? Enjoyment guaranteed if you can answer no to the above.
Beautiful, whimsical and inspired - but frustratingly determined <I>not</I> to address the questions behind the pictures.