Film review: ‘MISS FISHER AND THE CRYPT OF TEARS’, by Nick Gardener from ‘Built For Speed’

Miss Fisher and the Crypt of Tears is the big screen adaptation of the TV murder mystery series, based on the Kerrie Greenwood novels, that ran from 2013-2015 and featured Essie Davis as the eponymous 1920’s devil-may-care sleuth, Phryne Fisher. Miss Fisher’s substantial fan base clearly found the show’s demise a lot to bear and as a result, have crowd funded this movie version.

The transition from TV show to big screen adaptation is often a perilous one. Too frequently the magic of the TV series is lost as filmmakers try to expand the show’s canvas, crank up the action and introduce a generic plotline that leaves little room for the idiosyncrasies that defined the small screen version. Here, something slightly different has happened. Seemingly in an attempt to retain fidelity with the TV show the filmmakers have adhered to its style and structure and have brought back most of the cast and crew with Tony Tilse who directed a few episodes at the helm, Nathan Page as inspector Jack Robinson, Miss Fisher’s would-be love interest and of course Essie Davis returning as Miss Fisher herself. Unfortunately, this approach does not work.

The TV directorial style feels flat, transferred to the big screen many of the performances look awkward, most of the action is limp and unconvincing and the film displays a dubious western view of the Middle East. Worst of all the script makes it very difficult to know what, if anything, is going on in this story.  To call the plot a mess would be misleading as that would imply a tangle of ideas, the problem is there aren’t enough ideas to tangle. There’s some sort of Indiana Jones knock-off story about Miss Fisher trying to get to the bottom of a curse involving an ancient gem linked to Alexander the Great and in the process clear a friend who has been accused of murder. Tenuously linked to this is an uninvolving story about a young Palestinian woman who Miss Fisher saves and an attempt to continue the romantic tension between Miss Fisher and Inspector Jack. The story lacks momentum, purpose and intrigue while the dialogue lacks wit or conviction.

Also, what could have been a sprightly period adventure full of the frivolous energy of the roaring 20’s becomes a lifeless costume party largely filled with lookalike characters talking in affected accents about nothing.

That’s not to say this film’s a total loss. Essie Davis still has that enjoyably feisty attitude that defined her TV character. Also, cinematographer Roger Lancer delivers some bracing panoramas of what’s meant to be the Negev desert (in present day Israel) although they were actually shot in Morocco. There’s also some striking 1920’s era costumes and set decoration.

The film will probably have more appeal to the show’s long-term fans who might me more attuned than the casual viewer to character and plot nuances but a wider audience will be scratching their heads as to why this TV show has been reborn on the big screen.

Nick’s rating: **

Genre: Murder mystery.

Classification: M.

Director(s): Tony Tilse.

Release date: 27th Feb 2020.

Running time: 141 mins.

Reviewer: Nick Gardener can be heard on “Built For Speed” every Friday night from 8-10pm right here on 88.3 Southern FM.  Nick can also be heard on “The Good, The Bad, The Ugly Film Show” podcast.


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