{television} finding miss fisher

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miss fisher's murder mysteriesIt is 1920s Melbourne and the sophisticated Miss Phryne Fisher is fearless in the face of injustice as a lady detective and woman.

The Australian television drama series Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries was one of our favorite finds of 2013. Created by Deb Cox and Fiona Eagger and based on novels by Kerry Greenwood, its first run of 13 episodes during 2012 popped up on Netflix. Intrigued, and noting its multi-star rating, we gave it a go and were hooked. Now to figure out how to get ahold of Series 2. The inseparable personal and professional drama of Miss Fisher’s life is addictive.

The majority of our favorite mystery-drama television series are terribly dark, so imagine our delight at the bright humor and wit that is Miss Fisher. While there are dark elements, including some pretty gruesome deaths and heinous social injustices, an effervescent Phryne (played by the enormously talented Essie Davis) is gloriously incorrigible. I’m not sure which I enjoy more, her mischief or razor sharp intelligence—not that I should choose, because they are intertwined. She has determination and bravado in spades, but avoids being strident in how sincerely she cares for her friends and the present-day social issues of women, men, the immigrant, poor and ill.

“‘Phryne is such a firebrand, she’s a good role model for women and she’s a feminist without being at all didactic or boring,’ says [Deb] Cox. ‘Her social conscience is fantastic, her values are fantastic, so it’s a great thing to put out there. And she likes a bit of action, she’s not hung up in any way.’” (Vogue Australia interview*)

The series is historically informative in an effortless way, primarily due to the fact that Phryne runs contrary to the normatives—even in our present day representations of women. For one, pretty much every other episode hosts a steamy sexual encounter at her invitation. She shoots, drives, and demands a word, or three. She isn’t interested in being tied down, but she does want to be loved and seeks the care and affection of friends. Her troubled relationship with Melbourne Police Detective John “Jack” Robinson (Nathan Page) becomes one of the most endearing in the due course of the show. I will get to her wardrobe and art collection in a moment.

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{Jack (Nathan Page) & Phryne (Essie Davis)}

Miss Fisher uses some of the best implementation of charm I’ve seen in a long while.

miss fisher hugh and dotThe strength of the extended cast and characters helps. The first episode, “Cocaine Blues” introduces most of the primary characters moving forward as Phryne returns to Melbourne from abroad. Naturally, some are developed more quickly, but each are a resource for much of the adventures we come to experience and I’d be hard-pressed to choose an absolute favorite. I do have an affection for Dorothy “Dot” Williams (Ashleigh Cummings, left), a Catholic housemaid who is a prim foil for the wealthy and uninhibited Honorable Miss Fisher. Hers is one of the most enjoyable character progressions over series 1. Bert (Travis McMahon) and Cec (Anthony Sharpe) become handy men to have about. We’ll soon meet the awesome Mr. Butler (Richard Bligh); another character to enjoy in the unfolding. It is hard not to adore the well-played constable Hugh Collins (Hugo Johnstone-Burt, left). Female Dr. Mac (Tammy Macintosh) is a best friend and excellent source of information—and conflict.

I mentioned ‘historically informative’ and ‘social injustices,’ but the conditions for women provide a lot of the material for the series, and lovely relevance to having a female detective about. She has insight and access her male counterparts couldn’t possibly. Makes me think of Nancy Springer’s Enola Holmes. That she is well-traveled and well-read work in the shows favor.

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We’ve been enjoying identifying the Phryne’s art collection, and eventually (episode 7) we get more of a background there. And I can’t go much longer now without mention of Phyrne’s costume. I think all the clothes are smart, but I get terribly excited by Phryne’s clothing and accessories. I was reading about how Costume Designer Marion Boyce headed a small team to recreate 1920s fashion of gorgeously suitable proportion.

miss-fisher-s_20120222170202466550-420x0“Phryne is a really sassy individual and the leeway she allows is fantastic. She wasn’t conventional in any way – she’d served in the war, lived in Paris in bohemian style, and probably travelled further afield. This meant our parameters were wider and we could have an enormous amount of fun with her. Phryne’s influences would’ve been European. At the time, most of our dress was influenced by UK fashion, and because she’s lived in Paris, her boundaries are broader. She was much more playful than the more conservative English. […] I had this concept that Phryne was always completely fluid. She was a woman with an extraordinary amount of energy, like a little tornado. I always wanted her clothes to have a waft to them so they would move with her as she went in and out of rooms, taking Melbourne by storm. I designed pieces with that in mind.”-Marion Boyce (Smith interview**).

As Darren Smith observes in his interview with Boyce, her wardrobe is an enviable one…seriously, the hats alone…

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Miss Fisher is a vivacious character with a marvelous cast, not just in support of her, to play out entertaining mysteries and engaging social dramas. Some of the bright does move into a riveting creep-fest as the season closes, you’ve seen it coming as Miss Fisher is not the least bit careless in its crafting even though, for the first several episodes especially, you can just jump in and enjoy the fun.

Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries are a treat I cannot recommend highly enough.

————

trailer for season 1

* “Behind the Set of Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries with Essie Davis” by Alexandra Spring, 10 Mar. 2012, Vogue Australia. link

** “Marion Boyce: Designing Miss Fisher’s Wardrobe” by Darren Smith, 27 Mar. 2012, for ABC TV Blog (Australia). link

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Miss_Fisher's_Murder_MysteriesMiss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries created by Deb Cox and Fiona Eagger, based on novels by Kerry Greenwood; theme music by Greg J Walker; cinematography by Roger Lanser; costumes by Marion Boyce; exec/producers: Cox, Eagger, Christopher Gist & Carole Sklan; Every Cloud Productions. Starring: Essie Davis (Phryne Fisher), Nathan Page (Jack Robinson) Hugo Johnstone-Burt (Hugh Collins) & Ashleigh Cummings (Dorothy “Dot” Williams).  {images belong to ABC1}

as of this review, available streaming on Netflix

3 Comments Add yours

  1. Mary and I just started watching this tonight. In fact we are in the middle of episode 2 right now, paused while Mary makes tea. It is right up our alley. British mystery, wit, a bit of romance here and there. It is fun and I’m glad that you guys have enjoyed it as well.

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