Photographing Fairies (1997), or The World Around Us We Do Not Know

5 12 2009

We are taken to the Victorian age for our film today, where we get a tinge of sadness, anger, love, and hope in the guise of a small fantasy film. A dejected WWI photographer named Charles living in Britain makes a living by debunking phony pictures of ghosts, sprites, and other superstitious things people have hoaxed in recent years. One day, though, a woman named Bea comes into his office and gives him a photo that defies explanation. It’s a picture of fairies playing in a garden, and he can’t invalidate it. This intrigues him, and so in an effort to research this phenomenon further, he visits the small hamlet where the woman with the photo lives. As he’s investigating the fantastic claim of fairies, Bea dies in very mysterious circumstances. This prompts him to seek out these fairies, looking for them in their natural habitat, which is apparently cutesy-tootsy meadows filled with haze-inducing flowers. But on the way, Charles becomes slightly obsessed with the idea of talking to his dead wife, who perished tragically, by using the fairies as mediums. This turns out to be a slippery slope for him, as the object of his desires are much more complicated than he anticipated, and so in the sleepy little hamlet of Birkenwell he must unravel this mystery that lies somewhere between life and death, truth and fantasy, and the mundane and the divine.

This really is something of a lost gem. Never really appreciated when it came out, Photographing Fairies is barely recalled in the United States, and is now something of a cult classic in Britain. I found this incredibly spiritual tale to be delightfully imaginative, a real wonder to experience, and it has a lot to do with the setting. The surroundings of this film are so romantic, vibrant, and intoxicating, that I was wound up in the beauty of it all. Director Nick Willing creates an extremely photogenic portrait of life in this strange, vibrant world. What strikes me is how different and magical it is from post-war Britain, one of the saddest places on Earth. It sets up this separate world of hope and otherworldly delight that needed to exist for that sad, burdened generation. I enjoy the thoughts that this film brings forth. It’s an intellectual fantasy about the trials of death upon the living, and the search for solace after losing a half of your heart.

The cast is great! Ben Kingsley is seriously good as Bea’s husband, the local minister and chief nemesis of everything mystical and fairy-like. His steady gaze and the unwavering sternness in his face have a way of hitting you hard, right in the cockles of your heart. Kingsley in fine, fine form here, and I am SO happy to say that. Emily Woof plays an important role as the nanny for Bea’s children. She is a soft, nurturing type, and her face speaks volumes about her heart. I think her most valuable asset as an actress is her ability to be overwhelmingly sympathetic. Her scenes are few but key, and I was entranced by her simple beauty and elegance. The star of this film, Toby Stephens, is surrounded by a good cast, but he is most definitely the breakout. He plays the melancholy Charles Castle with something approaching brilliance. He really is a broken man in this film, and it brings me to the brink of some really heavy emotions to see him like that. My favorite scene is him during World War I taking the photographs of the dead soldiers. It’s a haunting scene, one that is exacerbated by the events that will follow, and Stephens handles it with an exceptional grace.

Don’t let Photographing Fairies slip through the cracks! This could easily have been something silly or unnecessary, but there’s something moving about this film that allows it to transcend its confines. There is something philosophical here, something intelligent and emotionally raw that should be cherished and fully experienced. I highly recommend this to anyone with a sentimental side, or anyone who likes being sucked into a different world. It’s not always a peaceful world, and there are some moments of scathing darkness, but it fits the scheme so perfectly, and I am very, very glad I saw Photographing Fairies. I give it 9 British pixies out of 10! A high recommendation!

Tomorrow we have another surprise! I’ll tell you about it then!

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