Sunday, November 22, 2015

From Page to (Small) Screen - Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries

Thanks to Downton Abbey and Call the Midwife, period dramas are all the rage, especially if they take place in a foreign country and are produced by a foreign country's broadcasting corporation.  Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries is a period drama, produced by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) which makes sense, because the show takes place in Australia, specifically Melbourne in the 1920s.  ABC, BBC, it doesn't matter who produced this show, it is a wonderful period drama with an amazing lead character and oh my, the costumes!  I'll get to the costumes later.

Kerry Greenwood created the Honorable Phryne Fisher for her series of detective novels starting with Cocaine Blues in 1989.  Phryne (pronounced Fryne) is a wealthy aristocrat living in St. Kilda, Melbourne in 1928.  She is a 28-year-old detective who solves all types of crimes with the help of her maid, Dot, and a couple of taxi drivers named Bert and Cec.  Phryne was not always rich, when all the other male heirs in her father's line were killed, he inherited a title and a great deal of money.  She worked as an ambulance driver in France during WWI, as an artist model in Montparnasse (an area of Paris, France) after the war and eventually ends up in Melbourne.  She is an amazingly accomplished woman.  She can fly a plane (gasp!), drives her own car (the horror!) and sometimes she wears trousers (stop! I'm having heart palpitations!).  Phryne is a bohemian, but she is incredibly stylish and classy at the same time. 

When ABC was looking to adapt a crime novel for television, Kerry Greenwood's series was brought to their attention.  In June of 2011, ABC commissioned a thirteen-part series to air the following year.  Thus, the wonderful, visually appealing, Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries television show was born. 

The main cast of characters from the book appear in the television show. In addition to Phryne there is:
  • Detective Inspector John "Jack" Robinson - a police detective who reluctantly works with Miss Fisher
  • Dorothy "Dot" Williams - Miss Fisher's companion/maid, she is a devout Catholic and often acts as Miss Fisher's moral compass and voice of reason
  • Constable Hugh Collins - Inspector Robinson's right hand man
  • Mr. Butler - Miss Fisher's loyal butler
  • Bert Johnson and Cec Yates -Taxi drivers, devout communists, often assist Miss Fisher in her investigations
What makes this show so wonderful is the fantastic cast, the interesting (and sometimes over-the-top) cases Phryne gets involved with, the chemistry between the characters and last, but not least, the clothing.  Phryne's wardrobe is an incredible collection of 20s and 30s fashion.  The costume designer for the show, Marion Boyce, deserves an Emmy (in my opinion) because every single thing Phryne wears is amazing.  Boyce did all the costumes, not just Phryne's, and though more understated, the other costumes are just as wonderful.  Dot, for instance, dresses very conservatively in tweeds and cardigans, offering a nice contrast to Phryne, who has no problem showing off a lot of skin.

To date there are 20 books and 34 episodes.  The episodes with the same name as one of the books will have the same plot, though there are usually deviations due to artistic license.  Do you need to read the books to enjoy the tv show?  Absolutely not! I binge-watched the entire first series before I read Cocaine Blues.  I don't often say this, but I like the show better than the books.  Maybe it is because I need the visual of Melbourne in the 1920s, or perhaps it is because I saw the show first.  I'm not sure, but I will say you should give the books and the show a chance.  Read then watch, watch then read, just read or just watch. The decision is up to you.

~Amy, Adult Services

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