In 1917 Frances Griffiths (Elizabeth Earl) arrives from Africa to stay with her uncle Arthur Wright (Paul McGann), her aunt Polly (Phobe Nicholls), and their 12-year-old daughter Elsie (Florence Hoath). The two young cousins are both coping with loss. Frances's father is missing in action in World War I and Elsie's beloved brother Joseph recently died of pnemonia. The girls also share a belief in fairies. To their delight, they find fairies living in the nearby woods. They even take photographs of them.

Shown the pictures, Uncle Arthur is not sure what to think of them. Not so Aunt Polly. She has been attending meetings of the Theosophical Society, drawn by the possibility that through them she might be able to contact her dead son. Now she shares the fairy photographs with the Society's head and they eventually get to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (Peter O'Toole), England's famous writer. He has them tested by an expert on photography. He also visits the girls and the fairy sites, bringing escape artist Harry Houdini (Harvey Keitel), who is on record as a skeptic, with him. When the photographs are later reprinted in Strand magazine, the girls become the darlings of the media. However, a journalist begins an investigation convinced that the photographs are a fraud.

FairyTale: A True Story, directed by Charles Sturridge, is an enticing drama about the eternal clash between reason and the magical realm of enchantment. The spiritual practice of wonder enables the two girls to experience healing, joy, and meaning during a period of desolation, loss, and death. Whether the existence of the fairies can be proved is beside the point. This astonishing family film salutes the mystery of life.