Miss Phryne Fisher is a semi-professional detective, very much in the tradition of the Thin Man, except she has always claimed to be a confirmed bachelorette. That is why the romantically-interested but often exasperated Detective Inspector Jack Robinson was so surprised when she married a maharajah for political reasons. He was even more shocked by the reports of her death, but those turn out to be assuredly premature in Tony Tilse’s Miss Fisher and the Crypt of Tears, the first Phryne Fisher feature film, which premieres this coming Monday on Acorn TV.
Much to the despair of the Home Office, Miss Fisher (formerly a British expat resident of Australia) breaks the daughter of a Bedouin woman out of prison in the British Mandate. Supposedly, she lost her life during the escape, but of course she is alive and well and quite pleased to crash her own funeral. At this point, DI Robinson resolves to finally get off the Phryne Fisher emotional roller coaster. However, when Fisher starts investigating a murder that took place at the estate of her host, Lord Lofthouse, he reluctantly agrees to help, as usual.
Rather inconveniently, Lord Lofthouse has been framed for the crime. Presumably, the murder was related to Middle East intrigue, since the victim was a sheikh, who was backing out of a deal with the Lofthouses. In what might come as a bit of a surprise to Miss Fisher fans, the case also involves supernatural elements, including a giant cursed emerald.
When it comes to traditional British mysteries with uncanny overtones, The Pale Horse is much more intriguing and suspenseful. Even though Crypt of Tears released in Australian theaters, it still very much looks and feels like a TV production. There is plenty of fan-service for the faithful, but viewers who are not already on-board with the franchise are unlikely to be won over by Crypt of Tears.
You probably either love or hate Essie Davis as Miss Fisher. It is nice that she is plucky and free-spirited, but at least in Crypt, she comes also across as a bit shallow and insensitive. She certainly can’t compare to Myna Loy’s Nora Charles, but who could? The strongest performance probably is probably that of Nathan Page playing the wounded affection and professional concern of DI Robinson with subtlety and masculine strength.
Regardless, if you like Miss Fisher mysteries, this is a new one. It is a pretty classy looking period production, with all the trappings of British cozy mysteries. There is even a fairly jazzy dance band (fittingly so, since among Kerry Greenwood’s original novels, The Green Mill Murder was notable for its jazz setting, the Australian equivalent of the Savoy Ballroom or the Cotton Club). Its okay TV, but not as special as its status as a theatrical feature would suggest. Recommended mostly just for pre-existing fans, Miss Fisher and the Crypt of Tears starts streaming this Monday (3/23) on Acorn TV.