Solving crimes has never been more fun for us armchair sleuths than by chugging along with the smartest, savviest, sexiest P.I. in contemporary media, Phyrne Fisher, aka Essie Davis, in the Australian smash hit series MISS FISHER MURDER MYSTERIES. Since the show’s debut in 2012, these classy, stylish thrillers, based on the novels by Kerry Greenwood, and set in Oz during the late 1920s, have deservedly exploded in worldwide popularity. And why not? They’re so very cool, or, as they used to say back in Phyrne’s day, the cat’s pajamas. Indeed, the Jazz Age has never been jazzier. And what better time of the year to rejoice at the arrival of SERIES 3 on Blu-Ray from those crackerjack folks at Acorn Media/RLJ Entertainment?
MISS FISHER, the show and the character, have evolved from a mere meticulous, delightful depiction of upscale Aussie 1920s lifestyle to an insightful look at some authentically charming people. Happy to report that the third collection of eight episodes (spread over two platters) is particularly revealing, as Phyrine’s usually hidden inner human foibles (save her jubilant sexuality) come realistically to light.
The thing I always loved about the show was the relationship between Fisher and staid detective division head Jack Robinson (the under-appreciated Nathan Page). He’s never deteriorated into one of those clichéd patronizing, sexist loudmouths begrudgingly accepting an over-privileged flapper (admittedly, whose initial interest in crime partially began as a sort of slumming hobby). Nope, the Robinson/Fisher connection is one of genuine respect. He is never condescending, but rather in awe of her intuitive (and often heroic) investigative skills. He additionally takes pride in working with her, as she, like himself, is a staunch proponent of doing the right thing – breaking all racial, class strata and gender barriers. And, oh, yeah, he’s also head over heels in love with her, something Phryne realizes (and toys with), but, is herself unaware of the full impact of their partnership – that, in fact, it’s totally reciprocal. Apparently, it’s the one time in Miss Fisher’s life that the world at large (aka, the ever-growing Fisher viewership) has one up on her.
And, again, this is what makes SERIES 3 so great; she’s finally beginning to “get it.” Her true surfacing emotions disturb her, as, for once, the lady is not in complete control of her formidable personality and sexual power. Long story short, Phryne Fisher actually starts to get jealous. And it’s a hoot. Of course, this is mostly due to the terrific chemistry and thesp chops of Davis and Page. This delightfully comes to a surprising head (for Phryne) in Episode 5, Death and Hysteria. When a sexual pleasure device is discovered, Phryne decides to cue Jack in on what it’s for and how it operates. Robinson politely interrupts her, explaining that he’s well aware of the function. Fisher is stunned, and the chief detective continues to relate a former case wherein he went undercover in a bordello for a rather extended period of time. Phryne’s jaw-dropping shock is replaced by the sadness that she won’t be able to ever be the one to introduce Jack to the joys of toys; then her sadness turns to mild anger, as she envisions Robinson with other women. And it’s all done briefly and without dialog, a bow to Davis’ brilliant prowess as one of cinema’s/television’s top members of the acting profession.
But there are other plot points afoot in SERIES 3 that further display cracks in Phryne’s up-till-now impenetrable perfect persona. Key is the arrival of Baron Henry Fisher (Pip Miller), her entrepreneurial father from the UK. A rogue, with as voracious an appetite for sex as his daughter, he’s also a wily rapscallion in the business world, which is a nice way of saying that many former associates are out to kill him. Determined to keep her pater alive as well as preventing him from cheating on her London-based mum, Phryne and Jack have their work more than cut out for them. Fusspot Aunt Prudence (Miriam Margolyes) doesn’t help matters, nor does the fact that straight-and-narrow Constable Collins (Hugo Johnstone-Burt), recommended for promotion, must endure a training leave of absence. This puts his squeeze, Dot Williams (Ashleigh Cumming), Phryne’s gal Friday, in a lonely state, not aided by the intrusion of Collins’ temporary replacement, slimy Snr. Constable Neville Martin (Henry Hammersla), whose goal is to chalk up the inexperienced Dot as his latest conquest. And, of course, also back on-board are Phryne’s butler, Mr. Butler (Richard Bligh) and her BFF, Dr. Mac (Tammy Macintosh).
Cases involving homicidal family rivalries, severed heads during a magic show (“cut off in her prime”), landmark historical reconstructive facial surgery (from disfigured victims of the Great War), biological warfare, political intrigue, proponents of free love, multiple personality disorders, Nosferatu-looking plungers, nefarious pornographers, plus a plethora of ingenious murders by radium, arachnids, funky cigarettes and more comprise the remaining episodes (Death Defying Feats, Murder and the Maiden, Murder and Mozzarella, Blood and Money, Death at the Grand, Game, Set and Murder, Death Do Us Part). And there ain’t a dud in the box. Best of all is the capper, with Phryne, not trusting her dad to return home to his patient spouse without any “detours.” She rents a two-seater biplane, and flies him back to England herself. This is worth mentioning because FINALLY a goodbye from Jack on a misty, countryside airfield gives us FISHER fans the fade-out we’ve been waiting for!
As always, the new MISS FISHER adventures have been designed and constructed with much affection for their protagonist and her era (featuring intelligent references to as diverse a group as Isadora Duncan, D.H. Lawrence and Zane Grey). The direction (by Tony Tilse, Peter Andrikidis, Mat King and Daina Reid), writing (supervised by Deb Cox, and individually scripted by Elizabeth Coleman, Ysabelle Dean, Chris Corbett, Belinda Chayko and Kris Wyld) and photography (Roger Lanser) is about as good as it gets. Ditto the original music by Greg Walker.
Of course, we’re all panting for a Series 4, but that may never come to pass. It isn’t that the writers have run out of ideas, but rather that Davis’ rising star (in such extraordinary tele-series and movies as The Slap and The Babadook) have propelled the wonderful actress into the international fame arena (culminating with a gig on the latest season of Game of Thrones). Nor does the problem seem to be the money (the shows have always been extravagantly funded, with Davis herself donning an additional hat as associate producer). It’s simply a matter of finding the time required in a swamped schedule to do justice to the subject.
In worst-case scenario land, an article recently surfaced that the FISHER production group has been contemplating the idea of filming a trio of feature-length big-screen Phryne movies, sharing the production costs with (wait for it, then gasp) Hollywood. Can’t you see it now? Miss Fisher’s roadster equipped with supersonic flying capabilities; or her new arsenal being a prototype of a 1920s precursor to atomic-powered assault weapons (causing Phryne to blow up the Great Barrier Reef). How about a case so difficult that it calls for a quantum leap assist from her 21st century American great-great granddaughter (yes, it’s Twilight‘s Kristen Stewart in her most challenging role)? It’s just awful enough to actually happen (think of previous Hollywood/overseas movies; think Bean; Think St. Trinian’s; think we’re screwed!).
But leave us not put a damper on the main attraction here, the excellent SERIES 3, superbly mastered by Acorn with colorful, accurate re-creations of the 1920s look in design, costumes, music and technology. Equaling the look is the audio, in fine stereo-surround. And there’s even a 35-minute cluster of behind-the-scenes featurettes to complete the package.
Furthermore, for those novice FISHER buffs, Acorn had made this holiday season a little brighter with a Blu-Ray box containing ALL THREE SERIES.
MISS FISHER’S MURDER MYSTERIES, SERIES 3. Color. Widescreen [1.78:1; 1080p High Definition); 2.0 DTS-HD MA. Acorn Media/RLJ Entertainment/all3media/Film Victoria. CAT # AMP-2431. SRP: $49.99.
COMPLETE SERIES BLU-RAY: CAT # AMP-2505. SRP: $119.99