Returning to Melbourne is not an event Miss Phryne Fisher (Essie Davis) expects to be eventful. But somehow it is. No sooner has she set foot on Australian soil – and reunites with family and friends, than she learns that a dear friend has just lost her husband, and what initially looked like a natural cause of death is soon reversed to one with suspicions. Called in to investigate is Detective Inspector Jack Robinson (Nathan Page) who soon discovers that Phryne’s curiosity and clever ability to see clues doesn’t end with a standard procedure police interview, she becomes a thorn in Jack’s side – the kind that refuses to leave! When the young maid of the house, Dorothy (Ashleigh Cummings) is named the prime suspect in her employer’s murder, Phryne makes it her business to clear the young girl’s name. Over the adamant objections of Jack…
Also playing into Phryne’s first case we meet a young constable (Hugo Johnstone-Burt) who works with DI Robinson, and a victim of a shady abortion clinic who may have ties to the murder case as well as a suspicious drug trade, all of which Phryne uncovers with Jack one step behind – trying to prove her speculation right (or wrong!) all while keeping the feisty investigator out of trouble.
British drama is a class of its own. Time and again I’ve been reminded of that and it’s no different as viewers get caught up in the adventures and glamour of Miss Fisher and her 13 revealing cases. Seeing this was a long time coming, it was one of those that I danced around for a long time and finally, two trusted recommendations later, I took the plunge and on a Saturday afternoon both my mother and I found out what all the buzz was about. Were I to go with the condensed review, this is nothing short of entertaining albeit featuring certain cases that aren’t always up to snuff. Since I rarely go with the short story, let’s talk about the glitz and glamour that is Miss Fisher.
Not since Foyle’s War have I met a group of crime-fighters that worked so well together while also working their way into fans hearts. This team is far from boring and shares a fantabulous chemistry – from Miss Fisher to the unlucky cab drivers she recruits (whose arrival in Miss Fisher’s life came about after they “fell” into one of her cases) and of course, the lovable Dot, this cast of characters leaves a lasting impression. For U.S. aficionados, most of the cast are probably unknowns, just the same that doesn’t keep them from playing each of their respective roles with class and wit. Davis is quite brilliant as the titular character – she is a warm, kind-hearted woman whose household is living proof of this; proof of this is found in the adorable Dot (and her crush on Constable Collins! Can we say cute!?) to young orphan, Jane, making Phryne easy to like. The only quibble I do have with her are the lose morals she practices – her sass isn’t the problem (that’s infectious), it’s her romantic liaisons that are called into question. Given the time period and the age where being “wild” was a relative term, I can say that it doesn’t “offend” me, however it doesn’t make her dalliances “right” either.
What is also fun to watch are the sparks between Jack and Phryne; their relationship is going to continue to solidify I suspect but it’s also morphing into the never-ending stream of fandoms that’s a will-they-or-won’t-they potential. This makes for some fun conversations or eye locks while in equal parts frustrates fans who wish for more. Making up for any minor personality trivialities is the opulence of the era. From the rush of motor car rides to the exquisite costumes and of course, the spot-on “mood,” every set affects just the frame of mind audiences should be put into. This is really the quintessential “flapper” era – everything about the production sparkles with personality, constantly transporting to the roaring twenties. Also not bad is the mystery. Most of the cases build to a spooky climax even if the writing doesn’t always mirror that.
Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries is a smart, snazzy, not-to-be-missed production. The 13-episode span is over all too quickly and though it doesn’t insult us by ending on a cliffhanger, it still beckons our return for its eventual second series. As the DVD jacket boasts, it’s both “witty and elegant” same as its darling and feisty heroine – and that’s what makes it so appealing. Never has sleuthing been this fun.
(Parental Concerns: with an unknown rating, a U.S rating would translate into TV14. There are two or three instances of partial nudity, multiple implications of unmarried lovers spending the night together [the camera usually cuts away, though not before some clothed foreplay and a post-scene, sheets appropriately placed] as well as some coarse [periodically] sexual conversations. Episodes deal with abortions [off-screen] along with a maid being raped [again, off-camera], drugs and abuse [including flashbacks to one of Phryne’s prior dalliances]. A book on seducing is given to a young man, complete with illustrations and a nude painting is passed around. There is some British slang and plenty of “violence.” Victims are threatened, stabbed, shot and/or poisoned.)