It’s been a long time coming – including a successful crowdfunding campaign – but the creative team behind the cult favourite TV series Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries have at last brought their heroine, fabulous flapper sleuth the Hon. Miss Phryne Fisher (Essie Davis), to the big screen – and to the wide world beyond 1920s Melbourne.
Everything fans find delightful about this cosy crime romp is here. Colourful, glamorous costumes (here, by Margot Wilson). Sassy verbal jousting with posh cads and bumbling bureaucrats. Alleyway chases after mysterious men in trench coats and fedoras. Balls and cocktail parties in mansions. Phryne Fisher’s pearl-handled gold revolver. Her fussy aunt Prudence (Miriam Margolyes). And, best of all, the romantic tension between our flighty heroine and the stoic Detective Inspector Jack Robinson (Nathan Page), who finds her constant interference in his investigations both exasperating and alluring.
Writer Deborah Cox and director Tony Tilse, who’ve shepherded the series from the start, begin the action in British Palestine, 1929, as Phryne daringly frees a young Bedouin political prisoner, Shirin Abbas (Izabella Yena). It’s a fun sequence that involves an Aladdin-style chase over Jerusalem rooftops; a smug colonial administrator and thuggish prison guard to outwit; a pit stop to flirt with an archaeologist old flame, Professor Linnaeus (John Waters); and a race along the top of a steam train about to head into a tunnel.
Reports reach Phryne’s nearest and dearest that she was killed by the train. Sobbing, her friend and former ward Dot Collins (Ashleigh Cummings) breaks the news to her policeman husband Hugh (Hugo Johnstone-Burt), as well as to Phryne’s fixers Bert (Travis McMahon) and Cec (Anthony J Sharpe). Enough about them, though, because they’re literally never seen or spoken of again in the film.
Though it barely registers on Page’s handsome face, Jack is bloody devastated, and heads to London to eulogise Phryne at her memorial service, where the mourners include Lord ‘Lofty’ Lofthouse (Daniel Lapaine) and his wife Eleanor (Jacqueline McKenzie), Lofty’s soldier brother Jonathon (Rupert Penry-Jones), Aunt Prudence, Shirin, and her suave uncle Sheikh Kahlil Abbas (Kal Naga, with big Raul Julia energy).
Of course, Miss Fisher would never actually be dead so early in a movie with her name on it; but rather than being gladdened by her survival, Jack pouts numbly and is only reluctantly jollied into aiding Phryne’s investigation by the fact the Australian High Commissioner (William Zappa) has confiscated their passports until they solve the mystery. Shirin is determined to track down the men who massacred her oasis village; and it’s all linked to an absurd green plastic jewel from a legendary tomb called the Crypt of Tears.