At the end of WWI, a great deal of the world seemed to decide the time was right for a very large party. The decade that followed, which has since come to be known as the “Roaring ’20s”, was not just a time of wild abandon and decadence (although there was plenty of that), it was a period of increased liberties both socially and artistically. Having seen the ruling classes push them into a conflict which caused so much death and carnage, the younger generation rebelled against the standards which their parents had lived by. Life was far too precious to be wasted on worrying what others might think of you.
This era is brought to life in all its flamboyant colour in Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries: Series 2 from Acorn Media. Another of the great series produced by Australian television, the show follows the exploits of one of the new breed of 1920s women, Miss Phyrne Fisher (Essie Davis) Lady Detective. Independently wealthy (all the male heirs to the family fortune were killed during the war and she inherited), she devotes her life almost equally to enjoying herself, and solving mysteries. If along the way she also happens to open people’s minds to the fact a woman is every bit as capable as a man, well that’s just a bonus.
Although the episodes are nominally about solving murders, they also manage to address social issues particular to Australia during that time. Whether shell shock (what we’d call post traumatic stress disorder), postwar anti-German sentiment, temperance, or the rights of women, the issues are each dealt with in a serious and compassionate manner. What’s even better is how the show’s creators have managed not to impose an early 21st century morality, but are able to make the characters’ perspectives and observations realistic to the time and place.
However, what really distinguishes this show from other detective/mystery shows, are the characters and the continued development of their interrelationships. Not only are the characters well written, each of them continue to evolve as the series progresses. As main the foil for Miss Fisher, Inspector Jack Robinson Nathan Page of the Melbourne police not only has to deal with her involvement in the various crimes they wind up investigating together, he also has to come to grips with their developing personal relationship.
In the first series we saw the beginnings of their relationship, and now the writers have taken it a couple of steps further. First we meet people out of Robinson’s past, including his ex-wife and ex-father-in law, who also happens to be his direct superior in the police force. When a couple of cases, including a superb one dealing with the issue of a Melbourne-based Madeline Laundry (basically a world wide series of workhouses run by the Catholic Church for “fallen” young women), bring Robinson and Fisher into contact with these people from his former life, it creates a different level of tension in their relationship then had previously existed. There relationship is further complicated when Robinson is forced to confront the depth of his feelings for Fisher because of an incident which occurs during the investigation of one crime in particular.
What’s wonderful about all of this is how the writers have both characters handle the changing circumstances. Neither of them change their behaviour or their approach to life, but they develop an increased respect for the other’s feelings. Watching this progression over the course of the 13 episodes of Series 2 is an example of the show’s quality. It’s truly remarkable to see how these changes are incorporated effortlessly into each murder investigation without ever taking away from the action or plot at hand.
Of course, Constable Hugh Collins (Hugo Johnstone-Burt) and Dorothy (Dot) Williams (Ashleigh Cummings), Robinson and Fisher’s able right hands are still around. Like their bosses, the characters, and their relationship undergo a substantial development over the course of the second series. Although they are both far more conventional than either of the people they work for, we watch as they both grow as people based on the experiences they’ve gained.
It may sound like the actual murders of the title “Murder Mysteries” might be secondary to the drama among the show’s lead characters. However, the writers have managed to create the perfect balance between the subplots involving the characters and the actual solving of the various crimes. Even in those episodes where the plots seem a little weaker, the actors’ abilities and the force of their character’s personalities makes each one a pleasure to watch. Davis and Page, in particular, give wonderfully multi-layered performances. I think you could watch them recite the phone book with pleasure. You’ll definitely find yourself wanting to see more of them in the future.
The thre- disc Blu-ray edition of Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries: Series 2 also includes special features which will delight fans of the show. Of special interest are interviews with most of the cast during which they talk about their characters and what it’s like to shoot the show. At one point, Davis confesses to being terrified of some of the jewelry she wears as her character as they are genuine pieces worth a small fortune. (Those are real emeralds she’s wearing, not fakes made for the show.) Being a Blu-ray of course means both the audio and video are wonderful and the show looks and sounds great through a home theatre system.
Everyone knows Australia and New Zealand are capable of making great films (Lord of the Rings, Picnic At Hanging Rock) but we’re just beginning to find out the same goes for their television productions. Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries is a great example of how they manage to create shows which are not only technically on par with anyone else, but can also match up artistically with what the rest of the world has to offer. In fact, judging by Miss Fisher and other shows I’ve seen, they usually outshine most of what we see on our televisions on a regular basis.[amazon template=iframe image&chan=default&asin=B00GWXI25Y]