Late last week, I got back into town from a work trip and conference in Chicago. As a result of my travels, I spent my weekend relaxing, catching up on sleep, and lazing about the apartment. On Saturday morning, not fully awake and sipping my first cup of coffee, I turned to Netflix and binge-watched the first three episodes of Season 1 of Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries. I was immediately hooked out of the gate.
Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries is an Australian television series that follows Phryne Fisher (pronounced Fry-nee), an heiress in 1920s Melbourne, as she fights crime and the status quo – all while impeccably dressed in flapper chic kimonos, beaded dresses, jeweled brooches, and cloche hats. It is based on the Phryne Fisher mystery series by Kerry Greenwood. If you’re interested in reading this series, check out the first book Cocaine Blues (Phryne Fisher #1). Potential readers beware: the series follows the books so reading or watching will spoil the mystery for the other format.
Anyone who knows me knows that I love a strong heroine. (Outlander anyone???) One of the elements of this show that I love is the strong feminist character of Phryne Fisher. Through Miss Fisher, the show’s writers confront women’s issues and struggles of the time, many of which, such as access to birth control, medical treatment, and sexual shaming, continue today. Lead actress Essie Davis said in an interview in 2012:
“It’s been the most fantastic thing, to have such a strong, sexy, clever, brilliant, flawed, beautiful woman to play. They’re few and far between,” she says. “Phryne isn’t Miss Marple and she isn’t Murder, She Wrote. She’s a cross between Sherlock Holmes in Guy Ritchie style, James Bond and Wonder Woman.”
In case you’re not already watching this series, and in case you continue to have any reservations about giving this show a chance, here are some reasons why Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries should be your next Netflix binge:
- Strong female lead: Phryne Fisher is a sassy, delightful, strong, and complex female detective who makes no apologies about who she is. (I agree with the ladies at Smart Bitches Trashy Books on this one). She’s a true bearcat.
- Feminism: One of Phryne’s close friends, Mac, is an out lesbian doctor, and episodes have touched on everything from women getting clandestine abortions to unsafe labor practices in a factory staffed by female employees. The show is clever about its placement of feminist overtones: there’s an episode where Phryne traps a poisonous spider – under her diaphragm. Series writers and producers Fiona Eagger and Deb Cox said in an interview in 2012:
“We were a bit curious to know what it was about it that could appeal to a 16-year-old and a 70-year-old,” says Eagger. “Phryne is one of the first feminists. She chooses to live alone, she chooses not to get married. She’s got many lovers. She’s a bit of a James Bond action hero – she’s much better dressed than James Bond though.”
- Strong female lead who is neither an infant nor elderly: Essie Davis, who portrays Phryne, is 45. Miss Fisher’s age is never specifically mentioned, but she seems to be in her 30s or 40s. “She’s an age that you don’t usually see as a female lead on a TV show,” says Jenna Scherer, a pop culture critic based in Brooklyn. “You get a twenty-something, or you get an older woman like Miss Marple or Murder She Wrote.” (Again, Outlander anyone???)
- Strong female lead with sexuality: Phyrne Fisher owns her sexuality and will not let anyone shame her for it (and the show pointedly does not shame her, either).
- Strong female friendships: Phryne is a liberated woman of the 1920s while her companion, Dot, is a reserved and deeply devout Catholic woman. Dot never shames or judges Phryne, and Phryne never judges Dot. They support each other and always have each other’s backs.
- The clothes: The hats. ALL of the costumes. The costume designer for this series is Marion Boyce and her work is just incredible. Over the course of the series, Phryne dons around 150 costumes. Even the set designs are impeccable.
- Clever writing: The show is funny, but also grounded in emotional truth. Conversations between Phryne and the local Detective Inspector Jack Robinson are especially hysterical as they tend to try to out-deadpan each other and have clever back-and-forth banter. But the show also effectively keeps reminding us that the atmosphere of the Roaring 20s was a reaction to a terrible, terrible world war – one which has deeply affected all of the characters of the show.
Now that you know your onions, it’s time to get busy watching Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries, the best flapper murder detective series. Kick your feet up, sip on a cocktail, and enjoy!