Film: Fairyland: a garden where Doyle meets Dali

Photographing Fairies Nick Willing (15)

Nick Willing's handsome-looking Edwardian fable about fairies at the bottom of the garden spins a supernatural detective story that starts with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and leads to some seriously surreal whimsy.

Early scenes paint an economical but atmospheric portrait of Britain after the First World War, a time when traditional religion is being supplemented with a hokey spiritualism which thrives on a grieving nation's morbid credulity. It's a climate which works to the advantage of young photographer Charles Castle (Toby Stephens), who, having lost his wife in a honeymoon accident, spends his days superimposing dead soldiers on to family tableaux, until, that is, the mysterious Bea Templeton (Frances Barber) visits his studio, clutching snaps of her daughters playing with fairies.

Convinced of their authenticity, Castle is soon following Bea to the country to run amok in the woods, romance the family governess (Emily Woof) and cross swords with Bea's preacher husband, the beetle-eyed Ben Kingsley. Not one for a broad church, Kingsley's charismatic minister decides to put a violent end to Castle's unorthodox and, as he sees it, premature trips to "the other side".

Touching on the psychosis of grief, the transcendental power of love and post-war shifts in class and faith, this ambitious film ultimately spreads itself too thin. Despite sumptuous photography and some fine performances (Phil Davis, Stephens's sarcastic sidekick, is a gem), its energy and credibility evaporate as its mystery is resolved through ham-fisted melodrama and a swarm of nymphs who buzz around the hero's head like so many computer- generated wasps.

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