Tue 1 Jan 2013
MISS FISHER’S MURDER MYSTERIES. Season One, 2012; 13 one-hour episodes; Australian Broadcasting Corporation / Every Cloud Production / Screen Australia / Film Victoria / All3Media. Cast: Essie Davis as Miss Phryne Fisher, Nathan Page as Detective Inspector John “Jack” Robinson, Ashleigh Cummings as Dorothy “Dot” Williams, Hugo Johnstone-Burt as Constable Hugh Collins, Miriam Margolyes as Aunt Prudence, Nicholas Bell as Murdoch Foyle. Based on the Phryne Fisher mystery series by Kerry Greenwood. Executive Producers: Fiona Eagger, Deb Cox, Carole Sklan and Christopher Gist.
MISS FISHER’S MURDER MYSTERIES is a delightful traditional (not a cozy) mystery series that rivals the British visually and in quality of the production. Reportedly, the series’ budget was $1 million per episode, and it shows. Eleven of the thirteen episodes were adapted from books by Kerry Greenwood, who assisted and supports the TV series.
The story is set in 1928 Melbourne Australia and the series attention to details of the time and place such as costumes, sets, locations, transportation, language and social customs is as obsessive as AMC’s MAD MEN for 1960s New York.
The Canadian TV network Knowledge’s website has some interesting video features about the making of this series. You can find these same video extras and more at the YouTube channel phrynefishertv.
In addition to the engaging mysteries, MISS FISHER takes a serious look at the social issues of the time, but with a sense of adventure and humor that makes the stories enjoyable to watch. The episodes are for mature audiences due to subject matter.
Most of the episodes feature a stand-alone murder mystery, but there is an arc story running in the background that often surfaces. Phryne grew up in a poor but titled family. While in Phryne’s care, her little sister Jane disappeared, never to be seen again. Murdoch Foyle, the man Phryne blames for Jane’s disappearance, is about to get out of prison after serving his time for abducting another young girl. Phryne has returned to Melbourne after years abroad to make sure Foyle stays in jail until he hangs.
Phryne is now rich, as all her rich relatives were killed during WW1, but she never forgets her past. Combine with her guilt over what happened to her sister, Phryne often takes on injustice, especially on the side of the lower classes. At the end of the first episode, after she had solved the murder of a rich businessman and stopped a butcher abortionist, Phryne decided to become a licensed PI. She realized she could help others while she searches for answers about her little sister.
Essie Davis is a wonderful surprise capturing not only the look of the character in the books, but also the essence of The Honourable Miss Phryne (Fry-nee) Fisher, free-spirit, independent, young, beautiful, well dressed (during the series Phryne wore around 150 costumes), rich, female PI. Essie Davis described Phryne as “a cross between Sherlock Holmes in Guy Ritchie style, James Bond, and Wonder Woman.”
The rest of the cast is equally talented and the characters appealing. Detective Jack Robinson slowly grows to respect Phryne’s ability as a PI, but never stops worrying about her recklessness as an action hero. The chemistry between Davis and Nathan Page is special.
The romance between Hugh, the naïve young Protestant policeman, and Dot, Phryne’s young companion/maid and devout Catholic, adds a running subplot that can often be humorous while also illustrating the serious conflict between the Protestant and Catholics during this time period.
Phryne encountered murder mysteries while traveling on a train, dancing in a jazz club, watching Gilbert and Sullivan on stage in Chinatown, a bookstore, and at the Circus. She dealt with drug smugglers, anarchists, Zionists, a ghost, blackmailers, an ancient Egyptian cult and delinquent teenage girls. She can fly a plane, drives a Hispano-Suiza automobile, can handle various weapons including her favorite gold, pearl handle pistol, and can challenge James Bond in number of lovers.
Season One slowly introduced the supporting cast as they entered Phryne’s life, and the season ended with the solution of the mystery of Phryne’s sister. The writing was excellent with strong mysteries, exciting action, and delightful dialogue. In one episode, when asked if she has her gun with her, Phrynee replies, “Not with this dress.”
The direction was equally well done and makes excellent use of the locations and sets with frequent use of master shots (when the director starts with a wide shot taking in the background and actors, then slowly moves in closer to focus on the actors and action).
The soundtrack featured a mix of jazz music recordings from the period by artists such as Duke Ellington, Jelly Roll Morton and Paul Whiteman, as well as original music and theme by Greg J. Walker that fitted the time and place perfectly. If you enjoy 20s style jazz, you will want to listen to this series, especially the episode “The Green Mill Murder” set in a danc ehall. The soundtrack is available, but not yet here in America.
Season One was a success and Season Two is planned. The series has aired in Canada and will air in the UK on Alibi. One can only hope MISS FISHER’S MURDER MYSTERIES will soon make it to America. The series has been released on DVD, but not in the American NTSC format.
You can (for now) view full episodes at YouTube by searching for “Miss Fisher Murder Mysteries” (complete episodes in parts of fifteen minute or less) or click on the link for the full first episode (until YouTube takes it down) “Cocaine Blues.”
ADDITIONAL SOURCES OF INFORMATION:
Australian Broadcasting Corporation website: http://www.abc.net.au/tv/phrynefisher
Book series website: http://www.phrynefisher.com
Interviews with writers and Essie Davis