But then I got my first glimpse of Miss Phryne (pronounced Fry-nee) Fisher. Sleek and mischievous behind glossy lipstick and jewels, brandishing a pearl-handled revolver and bright blue eyes and that fatal Louise Brooks bob, she made me forget all about my impatience with overly ritualized storytelling. Flappers with perfectly structured cheekbones trump snobbery every time, leaving me little choice but to spool up the first episode of Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries.
It would take more than intense aesthetic curiosity (yes, that's what I'm calling it) to keep the show from dropping to the bottom of my Recently Watched list, however. And it turned out there is more to this Australian production, based on a series of books by Kerry Greenwood, than passably plotted whodunits, perilous scrapes, and a spirited heroine of independent means. Certainly those elements form the core of each episode—and are ably served by a lavish production budget that allows for drool-worthy costumes and on-the-nose period detail. But the show's anchor is the ongoing relationships among the appealing and well-defined group of characters who comprise Miss Fisher's iconoclastic support network.
|Nathan Page, Hugh Johnstone-Burt|
Expressing various shades of shock, disbelief, and impatience at Phryne’s refusal to play by the conventions of her gender, those characters, who represent the limitations and contradictions of their time (as do we all), come to realize she’s not only as capable as any man, but offers far more than the allure of wealth and beauty. Certainly Phryne knows—and has suffered by—society's rules. But she also knows how to adroitly circumvent them when a flirtatious smile, a fiver, or a pearl-handled revolver won't do the trick.
It’s always tricky introducing a modern sensibility to stories set in the past: there's the danger of becoming preachy, flaunting present-day hindsight, or turning the main character into a virtual time traveler. Miss Fisher’s creative team seems acutely aware of this, maintaining its subtly progressive—and unapologetically feminist—tone while letting the show's wit, production design, and character dynamics supply the necessary spoon of sugar. Whether you're a mystery buff, a fan of witty period adventures, or just a superficial type with an eye for flappers, Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries should satisfy whatever sweet tooth you have.