FILM REVIEW – Miss Fisher and the Crypt of Tears

“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 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!


“Judy” is a biographical film made on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the death of Judy Garland. It is also a textbook example of Oscar-bait, a film carefully constructed to attract as many Academy Award nominations as possible. A talented actress who changes her appearance and gives a showcase of the art of imitation? Check. A tragic story about the need to sacrifice important things in life for art? Check. A nomination for the Academy Award for the best leading actress was a sure thing. I think Renée Zellweger is likely to win the second Academy Award in her career. But is “Judy” a good movie?

Generally – yeah, sort of. But I do of course have some reservations 😉

  • young Judy Garland
  • young Judy Garland
  • Judy Garland with her children
  • Judy Garland the LGBT icon

The Artist vs. The Human

The movie states its thesis in the very first scene – clearly, without subtlety. A teenage Judy is walking around “The Wizard of Oz” movie set with Louis B. Mayer. She confides in him that sometimes she would like to be a normal girl. He tells her that she has a gift which normal girls do not own. This gift is what makes her stand out, so she must use it. Judy agrees, but her face expresses doubt. And immediately we know that this conflict will be the heart of the movie. We also know that ultimately it will not be resolved (because in such films it never is).

I think the biggest problem of this movie is that if someone doesn’t know why Judy Garland is one of the greatest entertainers of the 20th century, they will not learn it watching this movie. The plot does not show the details of Judy’s career, except for her role in “The Wizard of Oz”. The movie expects the audience to either have a general knowledge of Judy’s life or to pay a lot of attention to what’s happening on screen. Important aspects of her life, like four marriages, addiction to alcohol and various prescription drugs, and the reasons for her endless financial problems, are only briefly outlined or summed up with single sentences.

It’s hard not to notice some similarities between the story of Judy and the stories of young Disney stars who in adulthood experience many problems caused by the restrictions imposed on them by the studio. Individual scenes suggest the enormous influence that MGM studio had on how young Judy looked, what she ate, how much she weighed, who she met with. In Judy’s adulthood, this leads to various addictions, and the overwhelming need to be loved. The need which is not satisfied by her five marriages or the adoration of the audience.

Yet, we do not see Judy’s greatest successes or her biggest problems. They are somewhere in the past. They influence her behaviour, her decisions, the way she relates to people in her life. But a viewer who has no knowledge of her biography may not have context and will misunderstand the fragments of Judy that we see on the screen.

Judy Garland, The Legend

My favourite subplot in the movie, which appears quite accidentally and ultimately does not lead anywhere, is the story of a pair of gay men. They come to every concert of Judy and one time end up spending an evening with her. I did not expect the movie to touch upon Judy’s status as an LGBT icon. In the 1940s and 1950s, when the so-called “homosexual activities” were illegal, and gay communities often used slang to not be understood by the straight majority, gays were often called “friends of Dorothy”.

There is a really touching scene when Judy sings a song for the two men, and one of them cries looking at her photos hanging on the wall. We do not know the details of their experiences, living in a long-term relationship during the times when they could have been imprisoned for it. But we see how the shared passion and inspiration found in their idol’s difficult life were what kept them alive.

I was all the more disappointed by a later scene of a conversation with the venue director, where Judy blames the pair for her exhaustion and calls them “fruits” (a pejorative slang term for gay men).

Being Judy Garland

Renée Zellweger is really good as Judy. You can see that she has done her homework when it comes to studying and learning Judy’s mannerisms. There were a few moments when I forgot it was Zellweger and not Garland I saw on the screen. To tell the truth, the make-artists are also to thank for that. They used not only make-up but also a prosthetic nose, teeth and contact lenses to make the actress look like Judy. Even so, I am sure that there will be those who will criticise this performance, talking about exaggeration, parodying gestures. Maybe they will even be right. In my opinion, Zellweger is so honest in it that I believe her. I believe Judy might have behaved like that.

But what about the singing?

The only false note (har har) in her performance is, in my opinion, the decision to use her own vocals. I’ve never thought of Renée Zellweger as a great singer, and her role in “Chicago” rather confirmed this for me. In “Judy” she sings much better and stronger, but still, it is not the voice of Judy Garland. It’s worth remembering that even at the end of her life, struggling with addictions, Judy still had an amazing voice.

Still, it is quite impressive that the vocals were reportedly recorded live. So what we see on screen is not a lipsync for a studio recording, but a record of how the scene really went. And although it wasn’t Judy’s vocal class, I admit, I shed a few tears during songs like “Come Rain or Come Shine” or “Over The Rainbow”.

The supporting roles in the film are quite solid, although no one stands out significantly. Above all, young Darci Shaw is memorable as young Judy. Known for his many roles in “American Horror Story”, Finn Wittrock does what he can as Mickey Deans, Judy’s last husband. Unfortunately, he doesn’t have much to work with. Neither do Michael Gambon, Rufus Sewell and Jessie Buckley.

Final thoughts

“Judy” is a good movie, but it absolutely is not an outstanding one. The creators’ intention to achieve a specific effect is a little too visible, but Renée Zellweger’s performance is really good. The dilemma at the heart of it – career or “real life” is a rather banal cliche, which, unfortunately, often plagues the biographies of great artists. But the determination of Judy, who knows nothing else than being a stage artist, and at the same time wants to be a good mother and wife, is shown credibly and poignantly at times.

If you’re interested in learning more about the movie and Judy in general, I recommend “The JUDY Companion”. Its author perfectly sums up what is missing in the movie. Personally, I agree with her 100%.

P.S. Watching “Judy” I couldn’t stop thinking about another movie about a brilliant singer in the last days of her life. I’m thinking about “Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill”, which I wholeheartedly recommend (you can watch it on HBO GO). Both films are adaptations of theatre plays and in both cases, it can be felt. In the case of “Lady Day …” this is obviously harder to avoid. The action takes place during one concert of Billie Holliday, during which she mentions the hardships of her life. The creators of the film simply shot the performance of the amazing Audra McDonald, using several different shots. This is a much simpler task, but there is still a similarity between the movies.

P.P.S. I wrote this review before, as I predicted, Renée Zellweger won an Academy Award for her performance in the movie. Called it.

NOIRVEMBER Day 2 – FILM REVIEW – “Double Indemnity” (1944)

Noirvember - day 2

Classic Film Noir

Now that you are familiar with the concept of Noirvember, I thought it only appropriate to start with a review of one of my favourite noir films. “Double Indemnity” is a fascinating, tragic story of an insurance agent and a bored housewife.

No, really 🙂

The movie is a thrilling story about greed, heartbreak and human weakness. Walter Neff, an insurance agent, sits in his office, wounded, and records a story for his boss, Barton. It all started with the Dietrichsons. He recounts going to their house to discuss an insurance policy and instead of Mr. Dietrichson, he meets his wife, flirty, beautiful Phyllis. They both immediately take a liking to each other and Phyllis loudly wonders about the life policy of her husband. It doesn’t take long for them to come up with a plan that will not only free her from her married status, but also get them a nice lump sum of $100,000. With such an amoral plot, it can’t all end up happily, can it?

On rewatching the movie I was captivated by how the feeling of impending doom was conveyed since the very first scene. We know from the very first moment that this is not going to end well. Walter narrates his story bleeding from a gunshot wound, so we know there are going to be consequences for him. Wilder used this flashback device, telling us the ending from the very start, in his other famous film noir, “Sunset Boulevard”. I think it is a vital element of the gloomy mood of noir. What hooks us is how the plot to kill Phyllis’s husband is going to go wrong.

Another element of the film breaking up the convention is the lack of good – as in, sympathetic – characters in this film. Walter has no qualms about seducing a married woman and is quite ready kill her husband, both for love and the money. Cold Phyllis is almost a psychopath, motivated by little more than boredom. Barton, Walter’s boss is presented as the honest guy, dedicated to his work, but also kind of pretentious and charmless (although the father-son relationship between him and Walter is probably the one positive relationship in the movie). Phyllis’s doomed husband is rich, boorish and utterly dull. Nevertheless, the drama that ensnares them all is immediately captivating.

The movie itself is a collaboration of titans. Based on a novel by James M. Cain, with the script written by Raymond Chandler and Billy Wilder, and directed by Wilder, it truly set a standard for many films of the genre. The same goes for the look of the film. It takes place in the City of Angels, and if a scene takes place outside, it’s almost always night. If it’s inside, it’s dimly lit, with sunlight coming in through the blinds, exposing dust in the air.

The only exception is Barton’s office. That’s because Barton, despite his lack of charisma, is the moral center of the film. He is, however, too blind to see that the person he is looking for, the accomplice in the murder of Mr. Dietrichson, is his friend of 11 years, someone “close – right across the desk […]”. “Closer than that” he says to Neff quietly. Neff smiles, and struggles to light up a cigarette. Barton takes the lighter from him and lights up the cigarette. There is tenderness in this exchange that enhances the tragic heroism of the story.

Does it stand the test of time?

To me, absolutely. It’s a must-see for any fan of not just film noir, but classic cinema in general. The movie did not gain universal acclaim when it first came out. Despite its popularity, many people were uncomfortable with its theme and saw it as too immoral. At the 17th Academy Awards in 1945, “Double Indemnity” received seven Oscar nominations, including one for Best Film, but did not win any. Its appreciation and popularity, however, grew in time. In 1992 the U.S. Library of Congress deemed it “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”, and thus selected it for preservation in the National Film Registry.

Interesting tidbit about me – I once wrote a 10-page paper about just one scene from “Double Indemnity” for a film study class. It was about the first meeting between Walter Neff and Phyllis Dietrichson, starting with her descending from the stairs. Remember when the camera first focuses just on her anklet? That’s an introduction of a sensual femme fatale!