Miss Fisher Film Returns the Timeless Detective to the Screen

Deb Cox and Fiona Eagger, co-creators of Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries and executive producers on the new movie, talk to TV Drama about what initially drew them to Kerry Greenwood’s novels, the crowdfunding campaign that helped make the feature possible and how they wanted to use the opportunity to expand the world of their heroine.

Greenwood’s best-selling historical mystery novels, centering on the independent 1920s-era Melbourne-based detective Phryne Fisher, served as the inspiration for the popular Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries series. For the first time, the books are getting the feature film treatment with Acorn TV’s Miss Fisher and the Crypt of Tears, which returns Essie Davis in the titular role, five years since the series’ last episode aired.

In Miss Fisher and the Crypt of Tears, Phryne Fisher embarks on a new journey that takes her to British Palestine and through grand London manors. After she frees a young Bedouin girl from imprisonment in Jerusalem, she unravels a wartime mystery that involves priceless jewels, ancient curses and the truth behind the disappearance of a forgotten tribe. In addition to Davis,among the ***Image***movie’s returning cast are Nathan Page as Detective Inspector Jack Robinson and Miriam Margolyes as Aunt Prudence.

When Eagger and Cox formed Every Cloud Productions ten years ago, they chose the Miss Fisherbooks as the company’s maiden project. It was an established IP in the ever-popular crime genre with cross-generational appeal—with a vivacious protagonist in Phryne Fisher, who was ripe to jump off the page to the screen. It was her “maverick attitude to the world and her gloriously robust independence and subversive feminism we fell in love with,” says Cox. “We knew we’d be very happy spending time immersed in her world—though we had no idea that we’d still be reveling in it for the next decade!”

Miss Fisher’s timelessness and timeliness, according to Cox, can be credited to the complex and aspirational character that Greenwood created. “Phryne Fisher was/is a brave and optimistic role model in the troubled times,” she explains. “After the First World War, the world was still in recovery from massive loss of life and social injustice was rife. Phryne Fisher is a superhero who thumbs her nose at convention in order to protect those who need protecting and try to change the world into a better and fairer place—especially for women. A young fan in her twenties who traveled across the world to attend our preview screenings in Australia explained the way in which the series inspired her very simply—Phryne Fisher made me brave.”

Inspired and enthusiastic fans like the one Cox mentions played a large part in making the Miss Fisher movie possible. After launching a crowdfunding campaign, Cox and Eagger were astounded by the response, which saw them raising their goal amount a number of times. “We knew we had a growing fan base around the world—particularly in the U.S. where the Adventuresses’ Club of America was holding annual Miss Fisher conventions—but we only appreciated the full potential of that enthusiasm when we appealed to them to support the film,” says Eagger. “We were totally overwhelmed by the response, blasting beyond our $250,000 goal in the first day.”

While raising the funds for the project may have provided one hurdle—though one that proved easier to clear than initially thought possible—rounding up the cast was another. The actors “had all scattered to other shows and countries since the conclusion of the third series,” says Eagger. “Ashleigh Cummings, who plays Phryne’s companion, Dorothy Williams, [was] heavily committed to shooting in the U.S. and only available during a Thanksgiving break in production. We had literally one night to film her scenes on the Crypt of Tears before we flew her home again—but she was absolutely determined to be part of the movie. The gathering of our key cast was like an emotional family reunion and a highlight of the shoot for everyone.”
In giving Miss Fisher the feature treatment, Cox and Eagger wanted to broaden the scope, offer bolder landscapes, making it a journey into the world that fans had yet to experience. Also key to the new format was staying true to the familiar, the essential qualities of Miss Fisher that have held fans’ interest and affection over the years. “We wanted that huge canvas of the Sahara Desert, we wanted injustice on a global scale, the sense of international rather than domestic politics, to push Phryne even further away from Miss Marple by raising the action and adventure stakes, and to take Phryne’s relationship with Jack to a new level of commitment,” says Cox. “At the same time, we were determined to preserve the playful banter of the series, to recreate a sense of the warm ensemble of characters supporting our lead and to ensure that no matter how ‘Indiana Jones’ Phryne became, that she embraced her hybrid genre with her usual irreverent and uniquely feminine take on her mission.”

It was in 2013 that Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries first landed in the U.S. on Acorn TV, which now has exclusive streaming rights in the U.S. to Miss Fisher and the Crypt of Tears and all three seasons of the series. The platform is also streaming the first season of the 1960s-set Acorn TV Original spin-off series Ms Fisher’s Modern Murder Mysteries, starring Geraldine Hakewill as Miss Fisher’s niece and aspiring sleuth Peregrine Fisher.

“Acorn has always had a major focus on period drama, crime, the murder mystery genre in particular, and female-led storytelling, and have been strong supporters of both the original Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries series and the sequel Ms Fisher’s Modern Murder Mysteries series, featuring them both on their platform,” says Eagger. “They absolutely understand our shows and the reasons they appeal to their audience. We’ve thoroughly enjoyed our relationship with them over the years and it feels very fitting that our first Miss Fisher feature film [is] carried by Acorn.”

And a second film could very well be in the works. “We’ve planted a clue to Phryne’s next adventure at the end of [Crypt of Tears], so we have a pretty good idea what part of the world we’d like to head to next time,” teases Cox.

Eagger adds, “We’ll just have to wait and see how we fare with Miss Fisher and the Crypt of Tears before we go full steam ahead with her next adventure—but, like Phryne, we’re determined and hopeful, and will be doing everything we can to make it happen!”