MISS FISHER AND THE CRYPT OF TEARS

Reviewed by GREG KING

Director: Tony Tilse

Stars: Essie Davis, Nathan Page, John Waters, Izabella Yena, Kal Naga, Miriam Margolyes, John Stanton, Jacqueline McKenzie, Daniel Lapaine, Ashleigh Cummings, Rupert Penry-Jones, Hugo Johnstone-Burt, Ian Bliss, William Zappa, Travis McMahon.

Essie Davis in Miss Fisher & the Crypt of Tears (2020)

This is a feature length adaptation of the popular television series centring around the stylish and formidable female detective Phryne Fisher (played by Essie Davis, from The Babadook, etc) who investigated crimes in 1920s Melbourne. The character was created by Kerry Greenwood in series of best-selling novels. The novels formed the basis for the television series Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries, which ran for 32 episodes from 2013-2015, and which screened in almost 100 countries around the world. When the series finished its absence obviously left a gap in the lives of its legion of fans. So much so that this stand-alone feature film was largely crowd funded by passionate fans, who raised some $800,000 of the budget. Most of the key creative personnel – including writer Deb Cox and director Tony Tilse – worked on the tv series at some time, which lends some consistency to the characterisations and settings.

The film opens in Jerusalem in 1929. Miss Fisher is working to rescue a young Bedouin woman named Shirrin Abbas (newcomer Izabella Yena in her film debut) who has been imprisoned by the British colonial forces for her outspoken views and activism. During the daring rescue, Miss Fisher disappears and is presumed dead. Shirrin returns to England and to the care of her uncle Sheikh Kahil Abbas (Egyptian actor Kal Naga, from Vikings, etc) who is trying to negotiate a business deal with the British government. Miss Fisher then reappears, just in time to get involved in trying to solve the mystery of the disappearance of Shirrin’s tribe years earlier. There is also a mysterious emerald that comes with a curse that sets Miss Fisher off on a journey across the Moroccan desert.

Miss Fisher And The Crypt Of Tears is the first feature film script written by Cox, who hails from a background in television drama (Seachange, etc), but the plot has a lot of holes in it and raises many unanswered questions. Some of the dialogue is cliched and woodenly delivered by a cast of veteran Australian actors. A second or third draft could have helped iron out some of these deficiencies. This comes across as a light-weight Indiana Jones/Lara Croft type adventure.

Prolific tv director Tilse (Lockie Leonard, etc) makes his feature film directorial debut here and his handling of the material is satisfactory, but can’t seem to shake off the feeling that this is a made for television movie. The pacing and the central mystery lacks any sense of real urgency. In a race against time to find a cave before a solar eclipse, Miss Fisher and her party take a leisurely camel ride through the desert. The film has been nicely shot on a number of locations, ranging from Ripponlea mansion to Morocco by cinematographer Roger Lanser (That’s Not My Dog, etc), which lend authenticity to the period detail.

Davis is good as Miss Fisher, and makes for a feisty, formidable strong female protagonist able to best the men at just about everything she undertakes. And she looks good while doing it thanks to the gorgeous eye-catching costumes from Margot Wilson. She is also perfectly coiffed, with not a hair out of place even when flying Sopwiths or riding across the desert on a camel with no name.

Miriam Margolyes reprises her role as Phryne’s caring but frustrated aunt Prudence, while series regular Nathan Page has a somewhat bland presence here as the devoted but lovelorn Inspector Robinson. The film features a solid cast of Australian actors including John Waters (Rush, etc), John Stanton (Homicide, etc), Jacqueline McKenzie and Daniel Lapaine.

Although this is a stand-alone adventure, Kerry Greenwood has apparently given the movie her seal of approval. However, Miss Fisher And The Crypt Of Tears is strictly one for fans of the popular series who will undoubtedly enjoy it and happily overlook its shortcomings.

★★☆

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