DVD Review: Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries, Series Three
Who would have guessed that Australian criminals of the late 1920s would have to live in fear of a determined flapper private investigator? Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries is an Australian period mystery series, starring Essie Davis as Phryne—pronounced FRY-nay—Fisher. (One early title for the series was Phryne Fisher Murder Mysteries, but the networks nixed this because they didn’t want to have to keep telling networks and viewers how to pronounce the sleuth’s first name.) Fisher is a young aristocrat with an appetite for adventure and solving crimes, and she possesses a wide variety of astounding talents, including firearms skills, piloting planes, cardsharping, and many more.
Miss Fisher is helped in her adventures by Dorothy “Dot” Williams (Ashleigh Cummings), her loyal assistant. Dot’s overarching storyline over the third series is her engagement to the police officer Hugh Collins (Hugo Johnstone-Burt), a constable in the midst of a career crisis and estranged from his family in the wake of his conversion to Catholicism. Miriam Margolyes plays Aunt Prudence, Phryne’s beloved relative whose general good nature hides the ability to be an impressive grande dame. Detective Inspector Jack Robinson (Nathan Page) is the straight-laced, by-the-book official representative in the police force. At first glance, it seems that he’s the stock character of the grumbling, ineffectual police officer who’s always arresting the wrong person and resenting the truly effective detective (think Inspectors Valentine and Sullivan on Father Brown), but it soon becomes clear that he’s actually a fine investigator—and in love with Miss Fisher.
There is no need to watch the first two series before the third; the episodes are largely self-contained and any necessary backstory is filled in easily. Over the course of the third series, we are introduced to Phryne’s estranged father, Baron Henry Fisher (Pip Miller) who appears to be a charming ne’er-do-well and gambler. The most interesting moments in this series come from Phryne’s distrust of her father, as she suspects him of theft, duplicity, adultery, and even murder. The friction between father and daughter is a pleasure to watch as are the final scenes of the series, which come to a rather satisfying resolution.
There are a handful of special features on this DVD set, including interviews with the cast and crew as well as promotional features. The best of the special features is a series of eight clips, one for each episode, each about one minute long, called “Mr. Butler’s Drink of the Week.” The aptly named Mr. Butler (Richard Bligh) is Miss Fisher’s accountant (no, of course not—he’s her butler!), and he has little to do in most episodes, with only a couple minutes of screen time per episode and scant dialogue. As “Drink of the Week” illustrates, this is a waste of his talent. In each episode, Mr. Butler shows the viewer how to make a special cocktail thematically linked to that week’s mystery. Each beverage, ranging from martinis to champagne punch, is presented with a few brief quips and dry humor. In eight minutes, Bligh shows off his talents for subtle jokes and wry facial expressions, and the production team would be foolish not to give him a bigger role in future series.
The third series is composed of good, solid episodes with an array of intriguing settings, such as magic shows, Italian restaurants, dilapidated hotels, military barracks, women’s mental health sanitariums, and tennis tournaments, though at times the locales are more interesting than the actual mysteries. Occasionally, the show goes a bit far by making Phryne almost a Mary Sue (a character whose laughable perfection strains credulity). Phryne’s intelligence, bravery, wealth, beauty, talents, habit of always being right, and the fact that she seems to make almost every man she meets fall in love with her tend to make her an overidealized figure. A critical viewer can share Jack Robinson’s barely veiled delight in discovering Phryne’s arachnophobia.
Despite some quibbles and lackluster moments, it’s a fun series with enjoyable characters and recommended for fans of mysteries and period dramas.
Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries, Series Three