The Honourable Phryne Fisher gets a cinema outing
1929, Jerusalem. The Honourable Phryne Fisher (Essie Davis) rescues Shirin Abbas (Izabella Yena), a young Bedouin girl, from her unjust imprisonment. During the escape, Phryne is believed killed. Detective Inspector Jack Robinson (Nathan Page) travels to the Fisher stately pile to read a eulogy at Phryne’s memorial service… only for Phryne to gatecrash the ceremony in a biplane. Also present are Shirin and her uncle Sheikh Khalil Abbas (Kal Naga). Then the Sheikh is found dead, and Phryne and Jack have a mystery to solve, which involves Shirin’s massacred tribe, a giant emerald and the legendary Crypt of Tears. Phryne and Jack also have their feelings for each other to resolve one way or another.
It all began as The Phryne Fisher Murder Mysteries, a series of novels by Kerry Greenwood. There were twenty of them published between 1989 and 2013, their aristocratic title character solving crimes in 1920s Melbourne while dressed in an extraordinary array of costumes. The television series, created by head writer Deb Cox and producer Fiona Eagger, became Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries, the name change in part due to possible issues in pronouncing its heroine’s name in foreign countries – “FRY-nee”, in case you’re wondering – and over a hundred territories did air the show. There were three series, thirty-four episodes in all, in 2011, 2013 and 2015, broadcast in Australia on ABC. In the UK, it didn’t make free-to-air television, being shown on the Alibi channel before a DVD release, and as I write this it’s available on Netflix. There was also a spin-off series, Ms Fisher’s Modern Murder Mysteries, featuring Phryne’s niece Peregrine, set in 1960s Melbourne. Now there’s a feature film, shot in Morocco and Australia. The Fisher stately home in England is actually the Ripponlea Estate in Melbourne.
There’s clearly an audience for more Miss Fisher, and some of that audience partly crowdfunded this film, but I suspect it might not cross over much to a wider one. Much of the television crew are on board – Cox as the writer, she and Eagger as the producers, and Tony Tilse as the director. A twenty-five-year television veteran (including seven episodes of the television series), Tilse is making his big-screen debut. Regular series cinematographer Roger Lanser is in place as well. So while this isn’t quite a double-length episode of the small-screen show, Miss Fisher’s transition to a bigger one is only a partial success.
The film has more than one murder and has a mystery to solve, but it’s more intent to cast its heroine in the mould of a distaff Indiana Jones. Phryne is the central character, and Essie Davis plays her to the hilt, the television show is an ensemble piece. We only see Phryne’s companion and assistant Dot (Ashleigh Cummings) in one scene, now married to Sergeant Hugh Collins (Hugo Johnstone-Burt) and pregnant, and that same scene is the only one too for helpers-out Bert (Travis McMahon) and Cec (Anthony Sharpe). Phryne’s butler Mr Butler doesn’t appear at all. We do see more of Phryne’s aunt Prudence (Miriam Margolyes). However, Detective Inspector Jack Robinson (Nathan Page) is the film’s second-lead, and the unresolved sexual tension and will-they-won’t-they which ran through the television series is front and centre here. Phryne’s many clothing changes were a highlight on the small screen, and you can expect Margot Wilson to appear on award shortlists next year for her costume designs. Davis and Page’s performances are all they should be, as well.
The plot doesn’t bear a lot of examination, and it all comes to a head in the desert during an eclipse of the sun (which didn’t actually happen then in reality, but no worries). While Miss Fisher and the Crypt of Tears looks good, and is quite watchable, it does seem a little underwhelming. The flair isn’t there, as it should be. There is an additional scene just after the end credits start.
Miss Fisher and the Crypt of Tears was released on 27 February in Australian cinemas. UK distribution is to be advised.
It’s the end, but the moment has been prepared for…
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