A strong start for Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries

Essie Davis as Phryne Fisher

There are a lot of crime shows on our television screens and not quite all of them are American or English. But it is very rare for there to be an Australian-made TV drama series based on an Australian series of crime novels. So there was a bit of excitement in the air at Fair Dinkum HQ last night when the first episode of Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries, based on Kerry Greenwood’s Phryne Fisher novels, went to air.

Happily I was not disappointed. The show captured the spirit of the books very well, ably assisted by Essie Davis as our larger than life heroine Phryne and Ashleigh Cummings as her confidential maid Dot who are the standouts of the regular characters for me. And if this first episode is anything to go by the guest stars for the weekly episodes will be a parade of some of Australia’s best actors with Miriam Margoyles and Miranda Otto both making appearances.

But with period dramas the acting is only part of the story, the setting has to be evocative too and this one looks the goods. There’s a bit of noticeable CGI in some of the outdoor scenes (the port scene!) but the close-up building exteriors and the indoor scenes look pretty authentic and some of Melbourne’s historic buildings are used to great effect. I’m sure there are loads of people who play a role in getting the look of the show right but I’ll single out costume designer Marian Boyce. I might be biased as it’s probably my favourite era in fashion (really the only era I know anything about) but the clothes all look great, especially Phryne’s seemingly bottomless wardrobe. I wish I’d been born in an era when women wore hats on a daily basis.

As far as plots go this first episode didn’t slavishly follow the book it is based on but did have a lot to fit in with a mystery to solve and a fair amount of Phryne’s back story to squeeze into 56 minutes (in fact more back story than you get in the first book of the series). I don’t have a problem with TV shows slicing and dicing the storylines of books because timing demands it and I don’t think anything here was detrimental to the basic facts and overall feel of the Phryne Fisher stories. Writer Deb Cox has achieved the same slightly over the top feel and fun-filled dialogue as the books contain and to me that’s more important than following a plot line precisely.

Most of the reaction to the show has been positive which is encouraging to see. It did very well in the ratings (even edging out the cricket which is almost un-Australian) and having aired on a Friday night I imagine it will pick up a lot of viewers via ABC’s iView (sorry this is only available to Australian viewers, though in good news for us it looks like it will be on line for several months rather than the two weeks most shows are available). Reviews in The Australian and at Change the Channel and Film Blerg all have mostly nice things to say about the show too.

Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries is a little bit camp, delicious to look at and loads of fun. It is also a showcase of great Australian acting talent, especially of the female variety which is something of a rarity. That’s not to say the men in the show aren’t good, merely that the female characters do have the best roles. For once. It’s a show that could be enjoyed by both fans of the books and those new to the characters and I’d recommend you watch it (or if you’re overseas watch out for it as rights have been sold into several markets already).



13 thoughts on “A strong start for Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries

  1. Loved the show! I did giggle at the port scene; that ship was very obviously CGI, but the atmosphere throughout the show was as I’d hoped it would be, Phryne’s clothes were divine, and Essie Davis is the perfect choice to bring Phryne to the screen. Agree it wasn’t exactly true to the book but near enough; I would have liked to have seen it as a 1.5 hour pilot show however. There was a lot of back story to shove in there, and it seemed to me that it had been severely edited down to fit into 56 minutes. (More of that tango scene would have been deliciously steamy for starters!)
    So glad that Kerry’s books have been so deliciously adapted for tv. 🙂


    • Caroline I agree that more tango would have been good to see – I imagined that scene taking place in a much larger room. But all in all I thought they did well and I’m glad too that the books have been honoured so well.


    • I believe the rights have been sold to the US but I don’t know about Canada. However one of the ways these shows make money now is via international sales so I’m sure the production company will be trying to sell into all markets if it hasn’t already Bill.


  2. Good to hear about the possible showing of this show in the U.S. If it’s available on dvd in a format used in the States, it would be a terrific gift to a friend who is head over heels for the Phrynne Fisher book series. I, however, haven’t moved to that era, am still happily ensconced in Corinna Chapman’s bakery in Melbourne, but will watch the Fisher series if it comes here.


  3. I thought it was a strong start to the series. The casting all appears to be pretty good, the costumes were fabulous, and the feeling was pretty good too.

    Looking forward to watching the rest of the series.


  4. I was very disappointed. OK, it was pitched as high camp and frivolous but it had the self awareness of ‘look how clever we are being’. Yes the production design, locations, wardrobe were very well executed, but again it was style with little content. Essie Davis (Joanna Lumley wanna be) sashayed around to the point of parody. Miranda Otto was the only believable character. I realise it was all meant as entertainment;nothing wrong with that, but please, not with such a heavy hand and some sense of reality. The plot was drawn out and only became of interest towards the end, when everyone stopped posing and realised they only had ten minutes to wrap the whole thing up. I watched the first fifteen minutes of the second ep, but gave up. Sorry, it didn’t work for me at all.


    • Sorry to hear that Brian. Even after the second episode I still think the series enjoyable and lovely to look at – and about a gazillion times better than 95% of what’s on TV these days. I do know your background is in TV productions so I’m sure you can see many mistakes and much room for improvement but as someone who looks to my few hours of TV a week for some escapist entertainment it suited me. At least it’s not a reality competition of some kind or another series of Underbelly 🙂


      • I know, Bernadette. For all it’s glitz etc., I wanted the characters to be more flesh and blood and not two dimensional. As a piece of fluff I can see it being popular. I just think it could have been so much better. Them’s the breaks. 🙂


  5. Pingback: A fair dinkum month – February 2012 | Fair Dinkum Crime

  6. I love the series but was a bit taken aback by the casting of the lead actress, Essie Davis. She does look the part beautifully, but so much older than Phryne. Phryne was born in 1900 and therefore is only in her mid to late twenties. Essie Davis is obviously closer to 40. The young lady playing Dot is a delight.


Comments are closed.