Miss Fisher and the Crypt of Tears Is a Delightful Bit of Escapism
3/5 tiny pistols.
You can chalk it up to the isolating effects of COVID-19, but when Essie Davis’s Phryne Fisher appeared on screen in Miss Fisher and the Crypt of Tears, I cheered out loud in my living room. Much like the Downton Abbey film, the return of Miss Fisher is akin to being reunited with a dear old friend. And the thrill of seeing Miss Fisher back in action offers almost enough goodwill to buoy the film itself.
If you’re new to Phryne fandom, here’s the gist. Based on the novels by Kerry Greenwood, Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries was an Australian television series that followed the adventures of Phryne Fisher (The Babadook‘s Essie Davis), a stylish aristocrat who moonlights as a private detective in 1920s Melbourne. Each episode finds Miss Fisher investigating a murder with the reluctant help of Detective Inspector (and long-simmering love interest) John “Jack” Robinson (Nathan Page). But if you’re new to Miss Fisher, don’t worry. The film works as a standalone piece, and you can always watch all three seasons of the show on Acorn TV.
The film, written by series creator Deb Cox and directed by Tony Tilse, opens with Miss Fisher in Jerusalem, where she breaks a young Bedouin woman, Shirin (Izabella Yena), out of jail and brings her to England. Shirin is the last of her tribe after a mysterious massacre claimed the lives of her family and friends. But was the massacre part of a mysterious curse or a government cover-up?
Set against the backdrop of British-controlled Palestine, Miss Fisher seeks to solve the mystery of the massacre with help from her estranged paramour Detective Inspector Jack Robinson. The duo travel from London to Jerusalem to the Negev desert (with Morocco subbing in for filming) as they collect ancient artifacts and piece together the mystery.
From the very opening, the film conjures the vibe of a classic serialized adventure. But unlike those films of yesteryear, the protagonist is a thoroughly modern woman. Miss Fisher operates like a cross between Indiana Jones and James Bond. She’s stylish, fearless, and preternaturally skilled in a variety of things, from flying a plane to firing a gun to breaking hearts across the Continent. Essie Davis brings confidence and joy to the character just as she did in the series, and Miss Fisher’s bon mots and derring-do are almost enough to carry the film.
I say almost, because while Davis remains a delight, she’s hampered by a muddled plot that doesn’t quite come together. The mystery itself is overly complicated and the pacing drags as a result, especially in the second half. In the series, the mechanics of the mystery are bookended by smaller plots involving Miss Fisher’s companion Dot (Ashleigh Cummings) and her awkward romance with Constable Hugh (Hugo Johnstone-Burt). Unfortunately, Dot and Hugh barely appear in the film.
And while the whodunit is lacking, there’s still plenty to enjoy in the film. Davis sports some truly fabulous costumes and the scenes in the desert are gorgeously shot. And of course there’s the witty and flirtatious banter between Phryne and Jack, which continues to delight. While Miss Fisher and the Crypt of Tears doesn’t reach the heights of the original series, there is plenty to enjoy in this adventurous romp.
There’s something to be said for an adventure film (and a period piece especially) where a woman is the hero. You can’t help but cheer as Miss Fisher refuses to be a damsel in distress and rejects the expected conventions of 1920s womanhood. Miss Fisher’s pluck and optimism, as well as her inimitable style, offer a welcome respite from our real world problems.
Miss Fisher and the Crypt of Tears premieres March 23rd aka tomorrow on Acorn TV. You can enjoy a 30 day free trial with the code FREE30.
And check out our interview with Miss Fisher herself, Essie Davis.
(image: Acorn TV)
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