TV Review: Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries Series One
By Autumn Topping
The Show: Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries
Where: Available on DVD (Here) but Series 2 airs on ABC in Australia
When: Fridays at 8:30
In 1920s Melbourne, the Honorable Phryne Fisher (Essie Davis, Girl with a Pearl Earring) is a thoroughly modern woman operating in a mostly male world. The glamorous “lady detective” goes about her work with a pistol close at hand—and, more often than not, a male admirer even closer.
To the dismay of Detective Inspector Jack Robinson (Nathan Page, The Secret Life of Us), Phryne’s investigations take her through back alleys, jazz clubs, and shady neighborhoods. Ignoring the dangers all around her, she glides through life determined to enjoy every moment. But beneath her devil-may-care attitude, Phryne hides ghosts from the past that continue to haunt her.
Stumbling across this Australian imported gem was a happy accident. Indeed, this is the best show out there that hardly anyone knows about (at least in America). After a little research, I realized this aired on PBS back in July. Somehow I missed it and wonder if there had actually been any marketing for the series going on. Nevertheless, I did eventually find this evocative costume drama and so I am sharing it with all of you to also discover the rich, beautifully shot Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries.
In the style of an Agatha Christie murder mystery, Miss Fisher always finds herself in the center of a murder she helps to crack. After solving her first murder she starts her own business as a lady detective which sets the stage for the rest of the first series.
With wit, seductive charm, and a fashionably gorgeous gold pistol, Miss Fisher never ceases to light up the screen and entertain. Essie Davis in the pivotal role shines spectacularly. The characterization of Phryne Fisher, while slightly over the top in the first episode with all her awesomeness, is brilliantly executed. She is one of the finest, well rounded female characters on television because she is every bit as flawed as if this show’s center had been a leading man instead of a woman.
Set in Melbourne during the 1920s, and as part of the upper class, Miss Fisher stands out as a modern woman but still a woman of the time. She can be vulnerable and strong (I also happen to love an independent woman who still expects a man to open the door). Beyond that, she is a product of WW1. In the midst of her endless desire to have fun and never settle down in marriage, she is also quite damaged from the war. Besides the war, Miss Fisher also deals with the murder of her sister that happened when she was still a child, a story that will be important for the entire season (and also a story that is wonderfully told from start to finish).
When Miss Fisher first returns to Melbourne (in connection to her sister), she of course comes across her first murder (where the fabulous Miranda Otto of Lord of the Rings guest stars) and meets the handsome Detective Inspector Jack Robinson in the process. The series, based on Kerry Greenwood’s popular novels, changes things up quite a bit here in the love interest department. In the novels, she always has a variety of lovers she meets along the way. The same can be said for the TV series but whereas in the books Jack is not a love interest, the show completely turns that on its head. And, thank goodness for that!
Miss Fisher and DI Jack Robinson
If you take the show as a separate entity from the books as I do then this could be one of the most entertaining pairings you will ever see on screen. The flirty banter, the well written subtext, and the smoldering chemistry between the two make the show for me. Yes, Miss Fisher still has an assortment of handsome men along the way (partly because she is too damaged to settle down) but the soul connection between these two is palpable and authentically portrayed. With each episode, their closeness builds until you can just feel their love for one another bursting through the seams. They are also great fun as Jack attempts (but always fails) to keep Miss Fisher out of trouble and harm’s way. Once they become unofficial partners, their relationship sizzles even more on screen. What I love about Jack is that he is kind of the Mr. Darcy personality: seemingly cold on the outside but really warm on the inside with great characterization of his own. Honestly, I can’t say enough about these two.
The side characters are also fabulous and all stand out. First, there is Dot, Miss Fisher’s companion who is shy, religious, but also smart in her own way. Their friendship is sweet and wonderful to watch because the two characters are so opposite. While Dot could have been judged for her wholesome beliefs and attitudes as a woman who loves to sew and bake, she is not looked down upon by the writers or by Miss Fisher with her own wilder views on life. And Dot actually has a love interest of her own in the adorably handsome and awkward Constable named Hugh. And when I say adorable, I mean ADORABLE. Their relationship is so cute that it just feels like they should get married immediately and go get a puppy. Then there is Mr. Butler (Miss Fisher’s actual butler) who soon realizes he is not working for the quiet and demure spinster he assumed and he takes it all in good stride with always a helping hand and ready intelligence. Cec and Bert, the communist taxi drivers, are also always around for some extra good comedy and willingness to help spy.
More than anything else is the production values of the series. They put out all the stops including accurate and elaborately beautiful set designs of the time period and then the most gorgeous costumes you will ever see on the TV screen. The costumes are dazzling, precise (down to the buttons of the actual time period given to the designers), and just rich in their eye catching presentation. The production puts every last penny to good use, this series looking like it costs even more than the million dollars they dole out per episode. If the mystery aspect of the show is less appealing to you, tune in just for the visuals and even beautifully shot cinematography because this is the show to watch if you truly want to see the 1920s come to life.
If I haven’t gushed enough, let me do a little more. If you don’t take the series too seriously (some of the mysteries are rather easy to figure out even if vastly more difficult than any weekly procedural found in America), then I don’t see how you can’t have a blast watching this series (I finished it in a week). Each episode gets better than the last, the first episode being the most flawed. Give it a chance after that for Miss Fisher does tone down and the writers find their voices rather quicker than most shows do. Overall, the show is funny, romantic, and visually stunning. If you love a good Agatha Christie murder mystery or a good Period Drama, this show should not be overlooked. Find the DVD, buy it, rent it, find it online; do whatever you can to not miss out on Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries.
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SERIES ONE TRAILER
NOTE: The series occasionally includes some adult content: violence, nudity (though rare), language (one scene) and strong sensuality.
Don't miss my post on Typing Fictional Characters: Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries
Read my take on BBC's The Paradise
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