Photographing Fairies Review

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Can fairies really exist? A photographer dismisses such questions as bunkum… until the day he's brought an authentic-looking image of tiny sprites and sets out to decipher the mystery.


After World War I, photographer Charles Castle (Stephens) earns his living making trick photos of dead soldiers for bereaved parents, but is still tormented by the accidental death of his wife on their honeymoon before the war. As the decade ends, spiritualism is all the rage, but Castle takes cynical pleasure in disproving photographic claims of a higher plane of existence.

When an enigmatic woman (Frances Barber) visits him in his studio with a photograph of her daughter holding what she claims to be a fairy, Castle is at first incredulous. But as he can find no tampering with the picture, he shoots off to rural Burkinwell where he becomes embroiled in her death, and pursues her daughters who hold the secret to the elusive fairies.

Visually lush and benefitting from great attention to detail, this has a dreamy, surreal quality and some spectacular scenery. Kingsley as the passionate parson left a widower and Woof as the governess who yearns for Castle to love her, are both superb. While Stephens, as the photographer — a believer of the tangible world who is unable to believe in God — has an excellent stand-offish, reserved quality.

This is a mystery that works on two levels: Castle's search for fairies leads him to both physical evidence and ultimately a belief in a world beyond the physical. In fact, the only area where the film falters is the fairies themselves — looking more like bewinged Cabbage Patch dolls than the featherlight creatures of lore, which goes to show how sophisticated special effects need to be these days to pass muster. Otherwise a real treat.

A fresh, profound film with excellent performances and beautiful visuals.