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).