Oh Phryne, what have they done?

Phryne (pronounced Fry-nee) Fisher is the 1920’s lady sleuth of Australian author Kerry Greenwood. Born into poverty and suddenly elevated into society when the death of a titled relative left her father with the title, estate and riches, she has a refreshingly nonchalant attitude to many of society’s virtues and vices. Her family’s wealth allows her a life of comfortable luxury and dabbling in little mysteries that come her way. She lives with her maid Dot, her butler Mr Butler and his wife who cooks for the household and later on *spoilers* her two adopted daughters Jane and Ruth.

The ABC will soon be showing Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries with Essie Davis in the role of Phryne Fisher. Essie Davis is true to the book character in all but one aspect. Phryne Fisher is in her mid twenties in the books. Essie Davis is 41. I don’t have an issue with her age as such, but she just looks a bit to knowing around the eyes for my ideal Miss Fisher. A little too experienced. I am hoping that her acting skills are such that I soon forget this and can’t imagine anyone else as Phryne. I can’t think of any younger Australian actress I would have cast in the role either. FTR this age thing is also an issue I have with other actors, such as Tom Cruise, Michael Douglas and Brad Pitt to name a few.

But that is not my only gripe with this new series. Be warned *here be spoilers for the books*

They have killed off Mrs Butler, introduced new characters in the form of a Dr/confidant and an Aunt in society, vanished Lin – Phryne’s Chinese lover although he may appear later in the series and her second adopted daughter Ruth, killed off Phryne’s sister who in the books is a lesbian suffragette and introduced a (to my mind) completely unnecessary nemesis. I suspect there will also be more URST between Phryne and Jack Robinson in the TV series than in the books.

Not to say that I won’t be completely won over by this series, but I’m starting out skeptical.

Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries starts on ABC1 on Friday 24 February 8.30pm.



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27 replies

  1. You do sometimes have to wonder why they bother getting the rights to adapt some books, if they’re just going to change everything. (I mean, I know why they do it, “Phryne Fisher” already has an audience unlike Random New Australian Mystery Serie Set In The 20s, but gods it’s frustrating.)

  2. People keep lending me these books and they leave me cold. I’m very interested that you like them, Mindy. What’s the hook for you? I hated the writing, from memory.

  3. @ampersandduck
    I just like the character of Phryne, that for the time setting she is free with her favours, and she thumbs her nose at society, mostly. I haven’t really given it a lot of thought. Perhaps I like her because she is the sort of person that I would never dare to be?

  4. I wish I could like them. I respect your opinion. It’s not an elitist thing, I read all sorts of shite. I don’t like detectives (apart from Precious Ramotswe) or murder mysteries (although I have read a lot of Donna Leon) … oh. Maybe I’m just contrary. *sigh*

  5. I didn’t like detectives much until I read the Phryne Fisher books. What I like is the great pleasure Phryne takes in things, particularly frocks, food and sex. With no apologies about it.

  6. I love crime fiction of pretty much any era, so that helps. Also what Pen said. But I’m sure you aren’t the only one who doesn’t like the books Duckie.

  7. Well, Lin and Phryne’s sister didn’t appear until several books into the series, and Phryne DOES have a doctor confidante in the first book and occasionally later, and Kerry is involved with the production, so I have hopes.
    Possibly the doctor here?? http://www.everycloudproductions.com.au/media/images/content/detail/2011_07_20_MFMM_0386-gallery237.jpg

  8. Oooh, look, here’s everyone and Lin Chung’s there : http://www.abc.net.au/tv/phrynefisher/photos/

  9. Thanks for that Cath, I now feel much better about the whole thing. Perhaps Ruth will be introduced in a later storyline as well or maybe, all going well, series 2.

  10. Oh, Ampersand Duck, I feel your pain. I happen to like Phryne very much, but I have had the experience more than once where I like the idea of a book but just cannot stand the author’s voice. And you’re absolutely right it has nothing to do with whether or not the author is a lightweight or the next Virginia Wolfe. It could be that you’ll love the tv series and never have to get the stories through the printed word.
    I just cannot read the Poirot novels but I adore David Suchet. I felt like the actor gave Poirot the humanity that Christie had left out.

  11. Forty-one and Phryne’s twenty-eight … oh dear. And having seen the promos that was the first thing I thought (without knowing Essie Davis’s age at the time): she is too old! Or rather, she looks too old. I hope she acts the part perfectly, because this is quite a hurdle to start with. And all those changes – Aunt Prudence? Who? Much as I like Miriam Margoyles, why did this part have to be created? And potential UST between Phryne and Jack? I really, really hope not, though it sounds like just the sort of stupid thing that would get made up. They like each other and he’s happily married. That does not need to be changed. Not every friendship or partnership between a man and woman has to include sex of some sort, though television land doesn’t seem to have caught up with that idea yet … or the idea of not alienating readers of the books they adapt. Oy.
    I wonder what Kerry Greenwood thinks of the result.
    Has anyone here read her Corinna Chapman series? I love those too (read all those and the Phryne ones since last July, when I first encountered them), especially for her cats and the references to Terry Pratchett. I’ve long loved the Discworld series and am just re-reading them for the first time in a few years. Then the other day I re-read Death Before Wicket, and one of the closing paragraphs (about what happens to people who cross Tillie Devine) read exactly like a description of what would happen in Ankh-Morpork, probably to someone who ran up against Chrysophrase the troll.

  12. Yep, big fan of the Corinna Chapman series – love Corinna as a character and love the pop culture references, and love them being set in the city where I officially live (even though I don’t get to spend much time there at the moment – or perhaps *because* I don’t get to spend much time there are the moment…)

  13. I live in Melbourne (very glad I’m not near the CBD now, though – the Bourke/Elizabeth/Swanston section is horrible, noisy and crass) and love the references too, like the time Corinna and Daniel go for tea in Brunswick Street.
    Gawd, I just read today’s Age article about the Phryne series … they’ve created a teenage sister, “Janey” for her, and had her murdered, and this apparently is why Phryne’s come back to Australia. Is it just me, or does this scream of gratuitous and completely unnecessary interference?

  14. I’m seeing posters around Melbourne advertising this and rather than focusing on Phryne’s personality it makes it all about TEH SEXAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAYYY.
    Ugh.

  15. Oh gawd. Twenty minutes into the first episode and I hate it, hate it. Why did they bother? Why claim this is Cocaine Blues? The only thing I recognise so far is the thread about Alice’s abortion. Phryne visiting someone who murdered her sister “Janey”? And since when was Dr MacMillan Australian? Ditto Phryne, who can only do an Australian accent via Cockney when she tries it? When did Cec the lanky pureblood Viking turn dark haired and stocky? What’s with this imaginary Aunt Prudence and a prettified Dot and rather too young, too handsome Jack?
    Shan’t be watching any more episodes. They’ve butchered the book and turned Phryne into an irritating younger (but not young enough) Miss Marple.
    And swanning around to morning calls in a half-backless, sleeveless dress? I don’t think so.
    Oh, and here comes some expository dialogue. Puke.

  16. With the cricket and #kevenge and saving the cat from a Pobblebonk (frog bought in by cat, cat foaming at the mouth) I completely forgot to watch Phryne. Will have to i-view it later.

  17. I rather liked it, although I had to watch it twice to get a feeling for it. I didn’t appreciate the scene in which Phryne and Dr McMillan (who should be Elizabeth not Mac) tested the pink powder to see if it was cocaine. Phryne is anti drugs and would never have had a second taste (I don’t think that in the book she even had a first taste, although I could be wrong).
    Regarding the morning call in a backless dress, it was actually a lunch date.
    The relationship between Phryne and the detective did, in the books, grow slowly from bad to respectful as she solves and helps him solve more crimes.
    I miss the back stories of the secondary characters but understand that the story must be compressed to fit within an hour – the books ought to be movie length to do them full justice.
    I do agree with the above posters that the Janey angst seems completely unnecessary – but stereotypically all amateur detectives have to have some kind of motivating angst that drives them to solve mysteries – rather than simply because they are bored rich upper class women who like to enjoy life.

  18. Good point about Phryne not tasting the drug twice, Delilah. I don’t recall where, but in one of the books I read recently (one of the later ones) it mentioned that she’d tried cocaine once – I think during her Paris days – and felt so lousy afterward that she decided it was too high a price to pay for the rush, plus she didn’t fancy the idea of decayed nasal tissue! :)
    Would the same apply about a lunch date (my mistake) as a morning call? The dress just looked like, I dunno, beach wear.
    I bet they won’t give Ember the starring role he should have, either. Mrrrowwwlll, hiss, spit …

  19. In other words, they sanitised it.

  20. I haven’t read the books, or watched the episode yet, I iQed it. (I’m betting the fact that I haven’t read the books will mean I can watch the show without all the “finger pointy but they butchered it” business)
    I do find it interesting that every one has commented on an older woman playing the role of a younger woman. Usually I see people upset that a younger woman is given the role of an older woman. (Thereby giving women a visible use by date and rendering older actresses defunct and void)

  21. That’s an interesting thought, Pirra. For me it wasn’t a general thing – it was that Essie Davis looks (again, to me) just too much older. I don’t think she’s at all plausible as a 28-year-old, or not this one, at least.
    Ha – in Murder in the Dark, Phryne’s cross about the ‘dress: optional’ part of an invite to the Last Best Party of 1928, because it means one either over-dresses or under-dresses. She prefers over-dressing of the two. I knew I’d seen something about that recently!
    Take that, script writers and wardrobe department! :)

  22. I haven’t read the books at all, so I can’t comment on the book-to-screen translation. I found it very very stilted, particularly at the beginning; however a number of things won me over:
    1/ A frank ‘I enjoy sex when and how I please’ attitude
    2/ The contraception reference
    3/ The Marie Stopes reference (well, same reference)
    4/ The issue of class, communism and prejudice being brought up – somewhat clumsily and in a bit of a ham-fisted manner, but still
    5/ Abortion being dealt with in a way that did not condemn at all someone wishing to get an abortion, but those who exploited this need
    6/ A lesbian character, and dialogue between the two women about all manner of things, hardly ever touching on a man
    7/ The ‘slap on the bum’ to wake up her male companion – I feel like women don’t get to be pragmatic and unabashed about bodies on tv, but are expected to blush and abstain
    8/ Rape being called rape, as in ‘Considering your last employers were a drug trafficker and a rapist I’d think you’d consider me at least a small step up’ or similar
    8/ I’m missing something big – there was something else political that was raised later in the show. Generally though I felt the politics of the show was far better than anything else on Australian television.
    Having said all that I found the dialogue and directing pretty excruciating at first. I think I will stick with it because it’s refreshing to see a female lead (however ‘sexed up’ she has to be). Because it’s nice to see a 41 year old woman play a younger woman, and to be honest I think she can pass for 30 which is not so far from 28, because it’s nice to hear pragmatic approaches to sex, contraception and abortion, even if it’s not how things may have been at the time, because it’s nice for her to be allowed to kick but and be brave and get herself out of ‘scrapes’. I’m hoping that it will settle in and be less ‘forced’ but the characters are enough for me to go back again.

  23. Juat an observation re: Essie Davis – I had no idea what her age was, and when I watched her for the first time (that I remember) in Cloud Street I thought she was about 30, and was really quite surprised to discover that she’s a good decade older. I’ll grant that she looked more 40ish in The Slap, but that was mainly knowing the purported ages of the rest of the cast and her senior work position.
    Count me as one who’s thrilled that she’s been cast in the part of a that-much-younger woman.

  24. @fuckpoliteness: all those points you made regarding the tv show are why I like the books so much – they have managed to capture the essential Phryne in the show. The books all subversively (and not so) make a point about sex, abortions, wife beating, socialism, capitalism, communism etc. I am so happy about it being a tv show and I think that I have gotten over the initial shock of how it was changed to fit within the confines of tv.
    Regarding the sexed up side of Phryne – she is just like that, she likes beautiful young men and having sex with no strings attached. She doesn’t use and discard, rather she generally warns them that they can’t keep her – and things start and finish as it suits her and her life.
    When I saw her on Adam Hills IGT, I was surprised at Essie Davis’s age – but she looks so much like how Phryne should be that I don’t mind – maybe a bit muscly for the decade she comes from, but whatever.

  25. Still haven’t gotten around to watching it yet. I didn’t think of the older actress playing younger woman thing before, but I agree that it is good. I loved Anoush in The Slap so I’m more minded to like Phryne now. I think largely it is because she doesn’t look exactly as I would have had Phryne – which is true of just about every book to TV/movie adaptation so I’ll just have to get over it.

  26. There was an interview with the author on RN. Sounds like she had a lot to do with the production.

  27. @fuckpoliteness every reason you just listed…yes. I watched the first ep yesterday and it drew me in for all the reasons you stated.
    (That and I must admit I truly love how ridiculous Dot’s catholic priest is. How terrified she is of anything ‘modern’, I found it amusing)
    I look forward to watching the next ep.
    I also think Essie as Phryne looks fine age wise. And she probably looks young for 28 in those days. Our obsession with youth, though hardly new, has meant a manner of all things used nowadays to make us look(more successfully) many years younger than we are. Stands to reason to me that a 28 yr old of Phryne’s time would look older than a 28 yr old of ours.
    I also just happen to love that she’s so much older than her character. I think it’s great for women in acting.

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