The Sophistication, Charm and Murders in ‘Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries’

The mysteries are consistently smart and well done, but it's the relationships between the characters that really make the show.

Mac: This is a holiday. Must you find murder everywhere?

Miss Fisher: Mac, you know very well murder finds me.

— “Murder Under the Mistletoe”

Based on the Kerry Greenwood book series, Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries is an Australian series set in the ’20s that centers on a lady detective, Miss Phryne Fisher (Essie Davis). Much of what makes Miss Fisher so appealing is how unapologetically modern she is. She’s never timid, she rarely judges, and she’s proudly eccentric, presenting a character that feels relatable regardless of the time period and her chosen profession.

The series does an excellent job of presenting cases that are both clever and familiar. There are jilted lovers, jealous colleagues, and grieving family members out for revenge, yet the mysteries remain smart and engaging throughout. Much of the credit for their appeal lies in the well-known Australian guest actors that are often just as charming as Miss Fisher. The camaraderie amongst Miss Fisher and her friends and family is as integral to the series as the mysteries themselves.

In addition to her modern sensibility, Miss Fisher’s relationship with Dot (Ashleigh Cummings), her companion and girl Friday, is another highlight of the series. Miss Fisher serves as both mentor and friend to Dot, and their loyalty to one another is never in question, even if they don’t always see eye to eye. Her time with Miss Fisher has affected her in ways that may be less flashy or obvious – she’s a devout Catholic who leans more toward conservative values – yet she’s unmistakably changed from their time together.

A perfect example of the ways in which Miss Fisher’s independence has influenced Dot is in Dot’s relationship with Constable Hugh Collins (Hugo Johnstone-Burt). As their relationship becomes serious, Hugh assumes Dot will make a home for them and leave Miss Fisher, but Dot is not quick to make that commitment.

One of the ways in which Miss Fisher is portrayed as such a modern character is through her sexual freedom. While her relationship with Detective Inspector Jack Robinson (Nathan Page) serves as a potential love interest throughout the series, Miss Fisher is never shy about pursuing and bedding any number of men she encounters on her cases. She makes no apology for her interest and in turn those closest to her accept it without judgment.

Indeed, Miss Fisher is always charming and open with whomever she encounters, regardless of social standing. This serves well not only her carefree attitude when it comes to social niceties, but also her independent streak.

Jack is an especially important character because even though he’s the detective automatically in charge when there’s a murder, and he could very easily deny Miss Fisher any access to the cases, he does not. In fact, Jack actively seeks out her help and together, along with Constable Collins and Dot, they’re able to solve the mysteries in unconventional and imaginative ways. Jack’s reliance on Miss Fisher is never at the expense of his own expertise, but rather as an acknowledgment of her unique skills and intelligence.

Adding to the cast of characters is the rest of Miss Fisher’s staff, including Cec (Anthony Sharpe), Bert (Travis McMahon), and Mr. Butler (Richard Bligh). Cec and Bert frequently serve as ‘the muscle’, as well as Miss Fisher’s link to some of the seedier parts of town and the people there. The aptly named Mr. Butler is her unflappable butler. He takes all of Miss Fisher’s eccentricities and murder investigations in stride, often stepping in to help in some unexpected way.

In addition to the household staff, Miss Fisher makes excellent use of the skill and knowledge of her close friend Dr. Mac (Tammy MacIntosh). Mac is a perfect example of the type of person Miss Fisher surrounds herself with, in that she’s as independent and singular a character as Miss Fisher herself. Apart from being a woman doctor, she’s also a lesbian who prefers to dress in men’s clothes.

Mac, along with the rest of the supporting characters, helps to flesh out Miss Fisher, not only in the ways that she interacts directly, but also in the simple fact that she enjoys the friendship and company of so many types of people. Her undeniable love of life comes across especially well through these relationships.

Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries succeeds in taking a premise that’s far from original, yet still feels exciting and refreshing. Davis is wonderful as Miss Fisher and she balances her fearlessness with humor and, at times, genuine vulnerability. The series also benefits from the attention to detail for the time period that makes Miss Fisher’s world come to life. Though the mysteries are consistently smart and well done, it’s the relationships between the characters that really make the series a success.

The Blu-ray DVD release includes several bonus features such as character promos, along with small featurettes on the second series, costume design, locations, makeup, and the actors. They’re a nice addition to the set and succeed in highlighting the closeness of the cast and crew.

RATING 7 / 10