For the infinite fans of Miss Fisher who are still waiting for the big-screen movie continuation of the story, there’s a digression to the 1960s with Ms. Fisher’s Modern Murder Mysteries, premiering on Acorn TV on April 29, 2019.
Set in 1963, it stars Geraldine Hakewill as Peregrine Fisher, Phryne Fisher’s long-lost niece. Young Peregrine is immediately established as flighty, sexually liberated, orphaned, and up for adventure, when she received a letter informing her that she’s inherited everything upon her aunt’s presumed death.
Peregrine’s mother is Annabelle Fisher (1915-1963), referred to as (presumably the ashes in) a potted plant. In the novels, apparently Phryne Fisher has several sisters and not all are named, so it’s plausible that Annabelle could exist. When Peregrine heads to Melbourne to collect her inheritance, she says her mother called herself an “abandoned love-child.” The explanation Peregrine is given is that Phryne’s philandering father only confessed on his deathbed that Phryne had a half-sister, and every letter Phryne wrote to Annabelle was returned unopened. So there ya go.
Phryne’s old 1920s house has been turned into the headquarters of the Adventuresses’s Club, and the house that Peregrine inherits is a totally mod mid-century split-level deal with glass and stone. Plus she gets an new convertible sports car.
The first episode drops her into a mystery set in a fashion show, and I’ll remind everyone that I don’t much care for the mystery genre, Miss Fisher-style or otherwise. This seemed as formulaic as with Essie Davis, so I’m not a great judge of that part of the story. The actors acquitted themselves well as far as introducing where they will all fit in the series though, and I think the ensemble works.
So let’s just look at the costumes then! 1960 shouldn’t be hard to do correctly because a) it’s within recent memory, b) there’s a ton of reference material readily at hand, and c) actual vintage clothing isn’t impossible to find, nor are costume rentals. And yet … Ms. Fisher’s Modern Murder Mysteries gets maybe a “C” average grade on historical accuracy here. Some scenes or outfits, will look perfectly period, and in the next moment, it falls to pieces. The look is woefully inconsistent.
In general, the crowd scenes are the best, such as at the Blair’s Emporium department store. The shoppers have a great mix of late-’50s and early-’60s clothes, which makes it look realistic and not ridiculously high fashion. Lots of hats on both women and men, gloves and purses for the ladies, so rather proper.
It’s the main characters that tend to suffer. Maybe because they have more costume changes? Their hair is also lackluster, and that’s a pity because ’60s hair is so distinctive and fun. Again, some of the extras have cute beehives and flips (not crazy exaggerated ones, that wouldn’t be appropriate for this time and place). But the Adventuresses hair, in particular, is meh and rather modern.
Now, in my initial review of Miss Fisher, I pointed out that it was clear the series was working with a limited budget because some outfits and accessories looked modern and/or inexpensive. No doubt, these Australian productions aren’t getting the financial backing comparable to ITV’s Downton Abbey or HBO’s Gentleman Jack. I get it! Costume designers have to work within the means they have. And at least Ms. Fisher isn’t pulling a Reign or Tudors by purposefully going with wacky fantasy modern clothes here. The modernisms are obviously attempts at 1960s styles that just miss the mark — and non-purists, people who aren’t dedicated Frock Flickers, probably won’t notice.
There are at least four episodes available as of today, so even if you don’t have Acorn TV, maybe give it a free trial to check it out!
Have you seen Ms. Fisher? What do you think?