“Miss Fisher and the Crypt of Tears” is the cinematic continuation (and in a way, the finale) of the TV show “Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries”. The show has been very popular among retro fans, which is hardly surprising. Phryne Fisher is an independent, stylish, easy-going lady detective who solves crimes as a hobby and loves to get on the nerves of the local police force (and especially one detective). Five years after the last season of the show, we can finally see the continuation of her adventures. With her trusty gold and pearl-handled revolver in hand, she and detective Jack Robinson come across another murder that needs solving. And because it’s a movie, everything is Bigger. The action moves to exotic places! The gags are bigger! We meet new characters!
I’m going to discuss certain elements of the storyline, so if you don’t want to read any spoilers, you can return to this review after you’ve seen the movie!
The Power of a Fanbase
Just the fact that this movie was created, and so long after the show had finished, is undoubtedly a success. “Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries” are an Australian production. It’s probably hard to find producers outside of Hollywood to finance a niche, period mystery adventure film. The creators decided to partially solve this problem by asking for the fans’ support. The show’s fanbase may not be the biggest, but they are committed to the cause. So the movie got part of its budget from crowdfunding campaigns on Kickstarter and IndieGoGo. Both campaigns collected over AUD 1.5 million!
Did this collective effort pay off? Film adaptations of TV shows tend to be a bit hit or miss. So, watching this movie, we need to answer the question – does this story work on the big screen?
Well, not entirely.
Good Old Friends
The long break seems to have affected the actors playing the main parts. It took me a while to believe that Essie Davis is Phryne Fisher, and not just practicing lines for the camera. A huge disappointment was Nathan Page’s complete lack of involvement. In most scenes he seems to be barely present. I don’t know what the director’s notes were, but the actor seems to be doing just the bare minimum of work that will allow him to collect his salary and do something else.
Fans of the TV show’s secondary characters like Dot, constable Hugh or Bert and Cec will also be disappointed. Apart from Phryne, Jack and aunt Prudence, all other TV show characters appear only in one scene. Story-wise it makes sense, of course. If your story jumps between Jerusalem, London and the Negev desert, it might be hard to justify the presence of a police constable or two taxi drivers. But I think that these characters also had their fans and their missing presence is palpable. If not for the humour, then just for the contrast between the glamour of Phryne’s everyday life and the working-class reality of her partners in crime solving.
What Was It About?
The story itself is… not great. The script doesn’t adapt any of the novels on which the TV show is based. Deb Cox, the film writer, is one of the show’s creators. It seems to be a similar situation to D. Benioff and D.B. Weiss, creators of “Game of Thrones”. They, too, were doing a good job until they had base material and their job was to adapt it to the screen and not create their own stories. The moment the show went further than the books, a lot of the audience and critics noticed a difference in the quality of storytelling.
“Miss Fisher and the Crypt of Tears” has a similar problem. The story has problems with rhythm, it’s hard to understand what motivates the characters at times. In many scenes, I felt like things happened because this is what the writers imagined, not because it was the logical result of the story told. In fact, I felt like before they wrote the script (or maybe in addition to the script), the movie creators simply wrote a last of cool things Phryne Fisher should do in a movie (because it’s supposed to be Bigger *insert jazz hands here*). Phryne on a motorcycle. Phryne helping someone escape from prison. Phryne walking on the roof of a moving train. Phryne crashing her own funeral by landing a plane in the garden. Someone made this list and then tried to connect these dots into something resembling a movie.
Now, to be fair, the TV show didn’t shy away from certain story cliches. But many things were forgivable there because the actors sold it all with grace and charm. Here the charm is missing, and its lack reveals plot holes haphazardly covered with some pretty outdated and bad CGI.
What’s Good Though?
As you might have guessed, all costumes, especially those worn by Miss Fisher, are absolutely breathtaking. More and more impractical, considering where the action takes place, but still – just gorgeous. However, I have growing doubts about their historical accuracy. I think even the most fashion-forward women didn’t were see-through fabrics like those used in the movie. I would love to hear the opinion of a historical fashion expert about it.
The story itself, although badly told, is… well, not great but rather good. One of the strengths of “Murder Mysteries” and, as I suspect, the reasons for the show’s popularity was its progressiveness. It translated not only to the character of Miss Fisher, a woman in her thirties… or forties?
Okay, I checked and Essie Davis was born in 1970 which makes her fifty now? (oh wow, does she look GOOD, right?)
Anyway, Miss Fisher is a woman of a certain age, who enjoys her life, her independence, her sexuality and freedom. But the show’s progressiveness influenced the stories it told. These stories were often about women as well. Topics such as abortion, contraception, sexism, were factors in the storylines. The movie continues this tradition by centering its murder mystery around the massacre of a Bedouin village populated mostly by women. One of the big plot points is the trauma that this massacre’s only survivor, a young girl, experienced and could not explain. We have a sweet (if inconsequential) series of flashbacks of the relationship between a mother and daughter. There’s even some commentary about the British imperialism. It’s still a rarity in a genre that by definition strives to be easy and pleasant. Which is why I want to praise something that in my opinion deserves that praise.
To be continued…?
During the production of the movie, there were voices that it was to be the first of three installments. Looking at its quality and rather limited marketing campaign, I find it unlikely. The movie was shown in cinemas only in Australia and New Zealand, and had a limited cinema release in the United States. The US distribution is handled by Acorn TV, a relatively small streaming company. Distribution in other countries is handled by All3Media and I think they didn’t put that much effort in marketing. In Poland you could see the movie on TV only and on a channel only available on cable.
In Poland the channel AleKino+ showed the movie twice. As of now, it’s available for watching on Player.pl. In my opinion “Miss Fisher and the Crypt of Tears” is a position primarily for fans of the show. New viewers will not get a lot out of it. will certainly help me pass the time waiting for when the show’s spin-off “Ms Fisher’s Modern Murder Mysteries” becomes available to watch somewhere. The protagonist of the spin-off is Phryne’s niece, Peregrine Fisher, and the action takes place in the 1960s.
Did you watch “Miss Fisher and the Crypt of Tears” already? What do you think? Or maybe you have your own favourite retro TV-to-screen adaptations? Let me know in the comments!