Monday, 23 September 2013


Melbourne, 1928. The Honourable Miss Phryne Fisher is a young, beautiful and wealthy socialite with many skills and talents. This free-spirited and intrepid lady also has a knack for solving crimes. Phryne (pronounced "Fry-knee") cannot resist investigating murder mysteries with her maid Dot, cabbies Cec and Bert, and her best friend Dr "Mac".

Her aunt, Prudence Stanley, disapproves her dashing lifestyle while DI Jack Robinson and Constable Collins are bewildered by her regular intrusions on crime scenes.

Based on the books by Kerry Greenwood, Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries is an Australian period detective drama launched in February 2012 on pubcaster ABC1 and starring Essie Davis (The Slap, Cloudstreet) in the title role. Deb Cox and Fiona Eagger (East of Everything) developed the adaptation within their prodco Every Cloud Productions for the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries is aired in the U.K. on Alibi and in France on France 3 as Miss Fisher enquête. The 13 one-hour episodes of its first series are now available there on DVD from Koba Films

« Miss Fisher, I appreciate your curiosity for crime.
- Well, every lady needs a hobby. »

Phryne Fisher comes back in Australia after years abroad to ensure that Murdoch Foyle (Nicholas Bell), whom she holds responsible for the disappearance of her younger sister, stays in prison. Her return to the Melbourne society alongside her reputation-conscious aunt Prudence (the great British actress Miriam Margolyes) starts with a luncheon canceled because of a suspicious death. Soon Phryne is confronted with illegal abortionists, a cocaine smuggling ring, and a handsome Russian dancer. Always ahead of Detective Inspector John "Jack" Robinson (Nathan Page, seen in Underbelly) and Constable Hugh Collins (Hugo Johnstone-Burt), The Honourable Miss Fisher loves a mystery and becomes a private detective.

« Another murder, no less.
- Let's not make a habit of it. »

« I haven't taken anything seriously since 1918. » Her devil-may-care attitude hides a strong sense of justice and a great generosity both built on her own tough background. She hires working-class devout Catholic Dorothy "Dot" Williams (Ashleigh Cummings) as her maid though Dot is afraid of electricity and the telephone! She wants to adopt the young and street smart Jane (Ruby Rees-Wemyss) and enlists communist cabbie duo Albert "Bert" Johnson (Travis McMahon) and Cecil "Cec" Yates (Anthony Sharpe). Phryne's aptly named butler Mr Tobias Butler (Richard Bligh) manages the household to perfection. Dr. Elizabeth "Mac" Macmillan (Tammy Macintosh) is her confidante.

« Where would you like it? In the head or in the heart? The head's better for you, but more mess for me. Though I'm running low on ammunition and I'd rather save my last bullet. »

On the Ballarat train, at the hottest dancehall in town, in a theatre, a factory, or driving her own Hispano-Suiza motor car, nothing can stop the daring Miss Fisher. With a budget reportedly of $1 million per episode, Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries spares no expense to recreate Melbourne in the late 1920s. The costumes (around 120 just for Phryne) and sets are lavish, the locations are classy. Astute visual effects add a luxury liner or erase modern skyline when necessary. The musical ambiance of the era is brought by the presence of Ben Selvin, Duke Ellington or Fletcher Henderson in the soundtrack. But also by original compositions like the theme intro by the series' music composer Greg J. Walker or Mr Music Man by Harry James Angus (Jack Irish).

« Obviously her blue period.
- Blue seems to have been her colour till the bitter end. »

Those ingredients would be enough to enjoy the comfort of those cosy whodunits adapted by head writer Deb Cox and her team (Elizabeth Coleman, Michael Miller, etc) but Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries delivers more. Essie Davis is stunning and reminds of Diana Rigg in The Avengers and The Mrs Bradley Mysteries. She and the excellent Nathan Page make the rivalry/attraction relationship between Phryne and "You might as well call me Jack" worthy of the Golden age of Hollywood. Although not serialized, the series has enough secondary storylines to gain the fidelity of viewers: the blossoming romance of Dot and Hugh, the family matters of Lin Chung (Philippe Sung) - Phryne's lover, and above all, the Murdoch Foyle arc.

« A bit of hush now, ladies and gents! Feel the spirit move. Will she be there or won't she, folks? Can we bring her back, or have we lost her to the great black beyond? »

The three episodes concluding this pleasant first series are surprisingly effective, taking the characters on a little (but not too much) darker territory against the sinister Foyle. Series 1 of Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries is in a 4-disc DVD set with its French dubbing and, most fortunately, the original dialogue track - subtitled in French or not. Bonus material includes (among other things) interviews with the cast, Kerry Greenwood, and the crew or featurettes about the train and the Hispano-Suiza. Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries is produced in association with Screen Australia and Film Victoria. It is distributed by All3Media International. Fiona Eagger, Deb Cox, Carole Sklan and Christopher Gist exec produce. Fiona Eagger and Deb Cox produce.

The gorgeous title sequence is from Plus Films. Miranda Otto (Cashmere Mafia), Wendy Hughes (Return to Eden), Peter O'Brien, and Joel Tobeck (Tangle, This Is Not My Life) are some of the guest stars. Series 2 started in Australia on ABC1 this month. Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries is one of the two brilliant Australian recent contributions to the detective drama genre, with The Doctor Blake Mysteries (also aired by ABC1). (In French) (Soundtrack review)