With the ending of season two of Agent Carter, and the sad news that the series may not be back for a season three, Erin and I have been pleased to discover a series called Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries on Netflix.
Phryne Fisher is not a superhero — but then again neither is Peggy Carter. And while Carter might live in a world of superheroes and Fisher does not, both occupy a rather stylized depiction of a historical time and place, and both are women thriving in spite of the chauvinistic attitudes of the men around them. The fact that Phryne (pronounced “Fry-knee”) is solving crimes in late twenties Melbourne, Australia adds to its slightly exotic air.
This ABC (Australian Broacasting Corporation) series has run for three seasons, so far, adapting the material from a series of books about the Honourable Phryne Fisher, written by Australian author Kerry Greenwood. Phryne is technically an aristocrat, although she grew up poor in Melbourne. However, during the First World War, a number of male heirs to her title were killed on the front lines, and she and her father ended up inheriting the title by default, and thus Phryne found herself heading to England. Riches did not bring happiness, however, and after the tragic death of her sister, Phryne ran away to France and joined a womens’ ambulance unit for the remainder of the war. After a very full life, Phryne winds her way back to Melbourne and likes the place enough to stay, using her wits, experience, and ability to connect with people the police can’t easily connect with (women, the poor, and so on) to solve crimes.
The television series takes a number of liberties with the books, especially when it comes to the age of its protagonist. In the books, Phryne is 28 (born in 1900), but in the hands of actress Essie Davis, who is in her mid-forties, the character receives additional resonance. Phryne is determinedly not the marrying type, and as a character in her mid-forties, her sexual liberation is a very firm life choice that she sees no reason to give up.
Also, Essie Davis’ approach to the character puts me very much in mind with Diana Rigg’s Mrs. Peel, so big bonus points for that.
Phryne is assisted by an ensemble cast of character. There’s her maid/secretary/confidant Dot Williams, a somewhat prim Catholic girl that nevertheless rises to the occasion to help Phryne in her investigations. There’s Detective Inspector ‘Jack’ Robinson, a police officer who first tolerates, and then comes to appreciate Phryne’s assistance on the many difficult cases they tackle, and who also provides useful muscle and legal clout. The two have a will-they-won’t-they relationship that is carried to absolutely absurd levels of “well, why don’t they?”. Phryne also works with her aunt Prudence, who outwardly seems to disapprove of Phryne’s shenanigans, but is a staunch backer of Phryne when she deals with the upper crust.
The episodes of the television series are pure popcorn, with all manner of plots dealt with within an hour, and the series relying heavily on the acting of its principles and the witty dialogue they get to exchange. It takes an almost anachronistically modern slant on issues that would only have just been introduced in the 1920s, so one is well aware that this is a costume drama more than a realistic depiction of Melbourne of 90 years ago, but it’s fun.
And it’s had a third season, with the possibility of a fourth. With the gap left by Agent Carter, Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries promises to fill the hole nicely.