Miss Fisher & the Crypt of Tears (2020)
Much like Detective Inspector Jack Robinson, I have an estranged relationship with Phryne Fisher, by which of course, I mean that I was only one season in when they decided to take it off Stan.
I have not forgiven Stan, (nor Miss Fisher for that matter), for leaving me so unsatisfied. However, when I heard that a feature film based on the series was coming, I thought that maybe, just maybe, it could make up for this earlier betrayal.
...Also, it’s now available on AcornTV, but that’s another $6.99 a month, and I’m not made of money, damn it!
Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries is an openly and blatantly feminist text, through and through. The character of Phryne, and the relationships and themes explored, are always painted from a modern feminist viewpoint, but displayed through a 1920s lens. It was always one of my favourite things about the TV show; Phryne is like a female James Bond from the 20s. She’s the epitome of class, she’s independent, she drinks, she shoots, she solves the mystery and she travels straight to bang town with whomever she pleases. And she’s not even a mopey alcoholic sad boy like Bond is!
This film starts in Jerusalem in 1929, so I was like, “dang, this is gonna go places” and honestly, on a thematic level, it’s kind of weak compared to the TV show. The show is so unapologetic, but maybe it eventually eases off in a way that feels natural...and I might know the answer to that if I had watched the last two seasons, but someone had to go and remove them from Stan, so what am I meant to do?
That's not to say the character is in any way weak. She isn't as overt about her sexuality, sure, but dang, she shoots the engine of a car behind her, while riding on a motor bike. In some ways, they make her completely over-powered! And sometimes, with a clear set up and no pay off. There's a scene early on where she fences her old friend, and beats him with the cool line, "the rules are often written by men". Great, she's excellent with swords and won't play by the rules. Two scenes later, a man pulls a sword out on her, and she tries to calm him down with words, then suddenly BAM! Some mystery person shoots him, and he's our first murder victim.... Why have the sword then? I was hoping for a church hopping sword fight scene with wit and cheating from Phryne, but instead I got... a guy got shot...bummer?
The way the film explores family and relationships is interesting, especially when compared to the show which has Phryne as an independent woman, living in a house way too big for her with: her aunt, a maid who is basically her daughter, and her adopted daughter whom she saved from slavery (something may have happened to her after season one, but she didn’t even show up in the movie, that’s for sure). Crypt of Tears explores a whole other family side of Phryne that had only really been hinted at (in season one), but I don’t know whether I really needed to see her with a bunch of rich, drunk aristocrats who actually kind of like her this time?
Also, I dunno, curses are real?
The one thing that is abundantly clear from the moment this film starts is that this was a TV show. And that is really unfortunate. Being that it was made in 2019, its 1920s Middle East really should look better than Indiana Jones, but it doesn’t. Every street in Jerusalem feels like a set, because they most likely are sets.
Once we move to London, things definitely look better. Be that as it may, it still looks as though it was shot in Australia. It might just be the fact that I know what this country looks like all too well, but there is no denying the Australian vibes. I would honestly go so far as to say that the TV show from 2013 (or at least season one) looks better than this, except for the one scene that is set in 1920s Melbourne, which is small but looks fantastic. But then, I think it probably looks so good because I’ve never seen a setting like 1920s Melbourne, so I have nothing to compare it to.
It may have also been that it is displayed in a 16:9 aspect ratio, which instantly makes it feel a little more TV-like. If they had gone anamorphic or even just faux anamorphic for the sake of price, the expansive desert scenes could’ve really made an impact, but instead they just look okay.
On the flip side, Margot Wilson was definitely having the time of her life as costume designer; every single outfit Essie Davis is seen in is absolutely iconic, especially the little knitted-sweater number with her initials P.F stitched in like an embarrassing Christmas present. I don’t know how you made a Christmas sweater look stunning, but damn Margot, you’re doing the Lord's work.
Essie Davis and Nathan Page are still the number one reason to watch though; their charisma and banter are irresistible. The film gets a chance to really focus on their dynamic and their relationship, which means that their performances really get a chance to shine.
I can’t make up my mind on the story. On one hand, we have multiple murders to solve, we have a world-wide adventure, we have Jack and Phryne finally concluding their will they/won’t they relationship, but on the other hand, it’s the plot for A Christmas Prince 3: The Royal Baby.
I’m not even joking.
It may not seem like it at first, but as the film finally reached its climax, I realised I had seen the mystery side of the story before, and the film of origin is A Christmas Prince 3: The Royal Baby. I’m talking the arbitrary curse, the arbitrary deadline, the fact that maybe they are both real. I’m even talking the solution to the mystery in the end! It’s the same person who gone dunnit! For the same vague reasons.
Now to be fair, there is actually a murder or three (or a whole village) and not just something that is missing, and everything is done so much better. However, that doesn’t erase the fact that the mystery is the same. And I also wasn’t joking about the curse; there is apparently a curse in this movie, and I don’t remember Miss Fisher being a Scooby Doo style show where they debunk fake hauntings and curses, but apparently this is? Granted, I never got the chance to see past season one, everything may have changed of course. But the curse kind of comes out of nowhere and becomes a main thing, and then is confirmed to be real? But also, not real?
I dunno, the mystery itself is actually intriguing, but the conclusion is a little lacklustre, so I once again point you to the real reason I still liked this film, it’s Jack and Phryne.
Their relationship is one of my favourite “will they/won’t theys" because it really works well in season one as just flirtatious fun. It doesn’t need to be anything more, but their chemistry together is almost too good. Not seeing seasons two or three and not being bitter about that, I can only imagine that they never “did they” in the end, being that the film begins six years later and Jack still has unresolved feelings about Phryne. Their first interaction on screen is truly heart-breaking and genuine, which makes the eventual return to “will they won’t they” territory feel earnt and makes you think, “Damn, they better actually will they this time”.
Once again I’m torn. There is a lot that I really love about this film, but nothing I couldn’t get from the TV show if only it were still on Stan. But the fact is that it’s not on Stan, so this is all I’ve got!
The mystery itself goes from being intriguing, to dull, to ooh what’s that, to oh, that’s what it was? Okay, but I still can’t say I disliked the film at all. Granted, we’re only following three of the characters from the show, but with more concentration on the lead two, that really turned out to be a good thing.
Then again, I had to think of A Christmas Prince 3: The Royal Baby again, and that’s pretty rough. And Stan had to go and get rid of Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries about a year or so ago, and that’s also pretty rough.
Oh no, and now I’ve just thought about A Christmas Princess, which is a Stan exclusive! We did a whole episode on it in the 10 Films I Hate About You podcast, so go listen to that to understand where this pain is coming from.
What am I even talking about anymore?
Oh yeah, Miss Fisher & The Crypt of Tears is a totally fine fun time, but I think the TV show is better. But guess what? The TV show isn't on Stan, so go watch the movie instead!