Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries

2 July 2015

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Who doesn’t love a really good Netflix binge? I know that I certainly do! We don’t actually watch normal terrestrial television because ugh reality shows and adverts and yuck (I make very rare exceptions for the likes of Peaky Blinders, Poldark, Wolf Hall, Game of Thrones and Ripper Street, which I watch on catchup an hour after everyone else has already watched and stopped talking about it on Twitter) but I’m really seriously attached to my Netflix subscription, which also coincidentally feeds into my serious lack of patience as it means that I can just binge on an entire series without having to wait for the following week’s instalment.

I’m ashamed to admit that the divine Miss Fisher hadn’t actually crossed my radar until I was listlessly flicking through Netflix in search of either Foyles War or Poirot the other day and it recommended that I try something new instead. I took one look at the picture of Miss Fisher draped in exquisite sequinned elegance across a plush looking sofa with a gold gun in her hand and a mischievous smile on her immaculately made up face and had one of those epiphanic moments when you think ‘Woah, where have YOU been all my life?’ before frantically pressing the remote control to find out more.

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Reader, from that moment on I was hooked on the Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries and after spending the last week indulging in a glorious binge on the first two series I have returned from 1928 to tell you all to take a look too because it is AMAZING. Seriously, it is now one of my most favourite things EVER. I love it.

First of all, let’s talk about the bewitching, witty and charming Honourable Miss Phryne Fisher herself (although someone really needs to tell the writers that you never actually SAY ‘Honourable’, it’s a courtesy title that according to the arcane laws of British etiquette is used in writing only and never in conversation), named after a celebrated Greek courtesan because her father was too drunk to recall to mind the more suitable ‘Psyche’ and born into grinding poverty in Melbourne, Australia but then elevated to unimaginable wealth thanks to the Great War decimating all the young aristocratic men who stood between her impoverished family and a title and lands in England.

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She is a total badass, who, perhaps unusually, manages to combine a hedonistic, dare devil enjoyment of life with a kind and generous heart and social conscience. Phyrne still remembers what it’s like to be poor and although she clearly adores having gorgeous clothes and being able to treat herself to the finer things in life, she is still unfailingly kind, sympathetic and completely un-snobbish in her dealings with others and distributes money with almost careless largesse, which is nice. However, she’s a whole different kettle of fish when dealing with villains – you really don’t want to mess with her or she will mess YOU up ‘without smearing my lipstick’.

Another refreshing thing about Phryne is her rather rather modern and extremely liberal view of love, sex and relationships. One of the things that I really loved about Peaky Blinders, which is set at roughly the same time, was the moment when Cillian Murphy’s character Thomas Shelby was introduced to one of his sister’s homosexual friends, who hung back a bit as if expecting censure or even violence and then looked confounded when Thomas simply shook his hand, gave him a friendly nod and made it clear that he accepted him as he was and couldn’t care less about his sexuality. There’s lots of moments like that in Miss Fisher and I find it very heartwarming, even if, sadly, Phyrne’s broad minded and accepting attitudes are not all that typical of the era that she lived in. Another thing that’s not altogether typical of the era is Phyrne’s own sex life which is perhaps a little on the unconventional side as she takes several lovers across the course of the series and makes it plain that she has no interest in marriage or settling down.

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One love interest remains constant throughout the series and that’s the dashing, handsome and gravel voiced Detective Inspector Jack Robinson who is at first completely annoyed by her interference in his cases but quickly starts to fall for her charm and intelligence and eventually finds himself completely smitten and actively depending on her insight so that eventually pretty much every episode ends with them having a cosy drink together as they discuss the case that they’ve just solved. Sparks really do fly between Jack and Phryne and I’m afraid that I have become completely over invested in their blossoming will/they won’t they romance and every meaningful look, lingering touch and loaded comment that passes between them. I almost don’t WANT them to kiss and get together though because that usually ruins things, doesn’t it?

There’s a whole host of other characters to love as well, from Jack’s earnest and adorable sidekick Hugh to Phryne’s delightful and sweet natured companion maid Dot (and they have their own lovely slow burning romance going on) as well as Phryne’s Aunt Prudence (played with considerable verve by the always splendid Miriam Margoyles) and the fabulous Bert and Cec, nominally cab drivers but who have their fingers in all sorts of pies and act as Phyrne’s loyal henchmen on occasion. There’s also her brilliantly redoubtable butler, Mr Butler and Jane, the young orphan that she adopts early on in the series and who looks set to be as much of a badass as Phryne herself. I especially adore her friend Dr Macmillan, a tough female doctor and lesbian who works in a women’s hospital and often offers Phryne assistance with her cases. They’re all awesome though and the genuinely affectionate interaction between Phryne and the people in her life is one of the great joys of this series.

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Let’s face it though, plenty of us are mostly watching for the show’s fabulously opulent costumes, most of which were specially created for the series by Marion Boyce. Although everyone in the series is beautifully turned out, it is Phyrne’s amazing clothes that really grab attention as she never looks anything less than stunning and appears in all manner of wonderful creations in every single episode, all teamed with amazing hats, jewellery, shoes and lingerie. It really is a wonderful, bohemian, lavish feast for the eyes, all complimented, of course, by amazingly beautiful and detailed sets. I actually had no idea at all that Melbourne was so beautiful until I watched Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries so now feel much more sanguine about the fact that there’s a very vague possibility that my husband’s company might well move us all there one day. I especially love Wardlow, which is used for the exterior shots of Phyrne’s own house and is apparently well known in its own right. It’s lovely.

As with Ripper Street and various other television shows of this type, each episode of Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries revolves around a different piece of social history from the era so there will be episodes based on dock yard strikes, Latvian anarchists, French artists living it up in Montmartre and, more darkly, white slavery, illegal abortion and cocaine dealing. This is true of the books too, which involve an ENORMOUS amount of research (I think I read somewhere that Kerry Greenwood spends about six months doing research and then writes the actual book itself in just a few weeks) and are like little fascinating history lessons in themselves. Okay, maybe you don’t need to be a Sherlock Holmes like genius to solve some of the mysteries on offer in the series but who cares when it’s so much fun to watch someone else do it?

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Now, as you may have gathered by now, I am more of a reader than a watcher so OF COURSE I hastened to my local library (the one at the top of my road is being threatened with closure so I’ve temporarily given up buying books in order to show my support by using this brilliant public service more regularly – because no library should ever be closed while there are still people, and especially children, who want to read books) in order to borrow the first book in what is most pleasingly a very lengthy series. I was a bit thrown at first by how different the books are (I’ve now read four in about a week) to the show with different characters and motivations and plots going on and absolutely NO smouldering going on between Phyrne and the book version Jack who is a happily married man (as opposed to an unhappily married and then divorced one in the series), however I soon got into the swing of things and now love them almost as much as I love the show. However, if you’re thinking of dipping a toe into the books too, then be aware that they are considerably darker (to the point of occasional bleakness) in tone to the series which is nearly always pretty light hearted.

The other main difference between the television series and the books is the age of Phryne herself, who is around twenty eight in the books and her early forties in the show. I’ve seen a couple of reviewers complain about this, which was a bit depressing as they were both young women and it felt really sad to me that they were taking umbrage at a strong, admirable, resourceful and attractive female character being depicted on screen as much older than themselves, as if women in their forties should be hidden from sight or something. Personally, I absolutely bloody LOVE it that Phyrne is the same age as me in the show because there are so depressingly few badass, glamorous women in their late thirties/early forties on television right now and it is marvellous to see her outdoing women half her age in the wit and glamour stakes. As long term readers may recall, I was rather less than pleased to be turning forty last October and, if I am honest, am still not totally reconciled to the dismal onward march of time. HOWEVER, watching Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries has done more to reconcile me to turning a new decade than pretty much anything else because GOSH DARN IT just LOOK at her: she’s hot as hell and absolutely revelling in life so why shouldn’t I too? With this in mind, dear reader, I have made ‘What Would Phyrne Fisher (television version) Do my new mantra in life and let me tell you, it has done WONDERS for my confidence and general state of grooming.

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In a nutshell, you should all just go and watch this quite frankly as it’s marvellous. I’d particularly recommend the series to fans of Miss Marple, Poirot, Downton Abbey, Ripper Street, Mapp and Lucia and the recent film version of The Great Gatsby (which I loved but eh, haters gonna hate).

(And yes, I’m VERY tempted to cut my hair into a Phryne Fisher bob now!)

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As the youngest daughter of the Empress Maria Theresa of Austria, Marie Antoinette was born into a world of almost unbelievable privilege and power. As wife of Louis XVI of France she was first feted and adored and then universally hated as tales of her dissipated lifestyle and extravagance pulled the already discredited monarchy into a maelstrom of revolution, disaster and tragedy. Marie Antoinette: An Intimate History is now available from Amazon US and Amazon UK

Set against the infamous Jack the Ripper murders of autumn 1888 and based on the author’s own family history, From Whitechapel is a dark and sumptuous tale of bittersweet love, friendship, loss and redemption and is available NOW from Amazon UK, Amazon US and Burning Eye.

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