I recently got into Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries in a big way. It’s a brilliant and highly entertaining show, set in the 1920s in Australia, following the adventures and misadventures of the self-styled “lady detective” Phryne Fisher. If you’re into historical crime dramas and women who are 100% in awareness and control of their sexuality, then you’ll probably love this show as much as I did, and I highly recommend you watch it.
Well. Barring the first half of season 3, anyway. The writing went a little off the rails there and I had a number of complaints, but it balanced out in the end again, happily.
So, it’s hardly a surprise that I’d been highly anticipating the first Miss Fisher movie, Miss Fisher and the Crypt of Tears, which I watched a few days ago.
The movie takes place very shortly after the end of season 3 of the show, and I suppose it’s a movie you could watch without having watched the show first, but if you do you’re going to miss out on a whole load of context. Who people are, why they’re doing things, etc. This is a movie for the fans of the show, not for newcomers, so if this movie sounds appealing to you, then I recommend binge-watching the show first. It’s a damn good time!
Miss Fisher and the Crypt of Tears takes its characters from Australia to Jerusalem, where Phryne saves a woman from prison and gets entangled in a mystery involving this woman’s entire tribe disappearing, and her connection to what appears to be cursed artifacts. As is classic for mystery stories, you get misdirection, you get drip-fed clues, and you get taken on a wild adventure trying to put all the clues together as both characters and viewers slowly figure out what’s truly going on.
I’m not going to give too many spoilers in this review, because I do want people to watch and appreciate the movie for its many strengths, but I will say that one of the big reveals at the end is one of the most stereotypical “upper class murder mystery” plot elements that I had to laugh. I mean, it works, and it makes sense, and I’m bringing it up as a point of amusement rather than a mark against the story.
The characters were as strong as I remember them from the show, and the new characters introduced for the movie’s story were well done and fit well with the tone that the series has established. The cinematography was gorgeous more often than not, though I can’t say much about the movie’s special effects budget. Some parts were extremely obviously CG, and it looked pretty bad.
The costumes, though, were delightful as always; I swear sometimes the fashion was the highlight of the show as often as the mystery itself!
While I did enjoy the movie in general, I did also find myself disappointed with it. Maybe it was a case of my expectations being too high or being different, but for all the hype, for all the love that the show had fostered in me, Miss Fisher and the Crypt of Tears wasn’t the smash that I expected it to be.
For one thing, never has the show dealt with supernatural elements. The few times that paranormal stuff has been part of a mystery, it was all shown to be mundane trickery, elaborate ruses set up by someone who wanted others to believe something otherworldly was occurring. It was a show that wasn’t always firmly grounded in science (believe me, I have a gripe with one particular episode that seemed to have no idea how dead bodies worked…), but it was grounded in the understanding that the physical plane of reality is where things happen. If spirits are ever involved in Phryne Fisher’s life, they’re the sort found in a bottle.
Until near the end of the movie, I wanted to say it was the same thing here, too. Cursed objects are one thing, but a curse doesn’t have to be real for people to believe in it or act as though it was affecting them; belief can be powerful. It could have been real, it could not have been.
But given that returning an ancient gem to its resting place caused a dried-up well to refill… Or that part of the movie’s urgency was that things had to be wrapped up by the time a coming solar eclipse happened, which was foretold decades ago… Miss Fisher and the Crypt of Tears dipped its toes into the supernatural, and it didn’t fit.
It felt a lot like the team behind the movie thought they had to go big or go home, that they had to do something that beat out what the show ever did in order to justify a movie, and from my point of view, that just wasn’t the case. The movie could have been the equivalent to a 2-parter episode and I’d have loved it, because it would have been more of what I already loved. Changing the location was an odd choice, but okay, new locales are fun to explore. Throwing in some new cultural stuff and an exploration of how World War I affected non-Western regions? Good stuff, and I don’t often see that. Cursed items and supernatural elements in my 1920s murder mystery series? Why though? Was the team running out of course material to pull stories from? Did they think they had to do something very different to keep audience attention, that the series as a concept wasn’t interesting enough?
I mean, I have my issues with season 3 of the show, mostly with Dot and Hugh’s characterization during their marriage subplot, but even then I didn’t stop watching. It was a low point in the series, but I still enjoyed it. And while I did enjoy Miss Fisher and the Crypt of Tears, I feel that it was the franchise’s new lowest point for me, a story that didn’t fit in with the rest of the series and really only tied up one single plot thread, and that was done in the movie’s last 2 minutes. Fans of the show could avoid this movie and not really miss much, despite the fact that the movie was clearly made for fans of the show.
This wasn’t a bad movie. But it also wasn’t quite what I was hoping it would be, and I finished it with the feeling that more than anything, I just wanted to watch the show again. The acting was good, the general story was good, but it stumbled over itself more than once in what felt like an attempt to up the ante, and it really wasn’t needed. I may watch it again in the future, but I think I’m more likely to just re-binge on the show instead.
Watch it if you’re a fan of the show, but be aware that it does some odd things that don’t quite fit with what fans have come to expect from their Miss Fisher.