Miss Fisher and the Crypt of Tears. M.
From books to television, the Miss Fisher stories come with a serious fan base. So serious, in fact, that they raised over $750,000 dollars in a crowd funding campaign to help shift the franchise to the big screen. I hope they also help with the marketing, because this movie is made for them, with little cinematic appeal for anyone else. It's a turgid whodunit with some great costumes and a strong cast doing their best with uninspiring material.
The film opens with promising zest: Phryne Fischer (the effervescent Essie Davis) is on the run from British authorities in Palestine in 1929. Nifty - despite the heels and flowing robes - she scales walls, outwits army officers and improvises with a donkey to break a young Bedouin woman, Shirin Abbas (Izabella Yena), out of jail and away to England. Safety comes in the form of the stately home of Lord and Lady Lofthouse (Daniel Lapaine and Jaqueline McKenzie), where Shirin is placed in the care of her uncle, Sheikh Kahlil Abbas (Kal Naga).
The cause of Shirin's imprisonment in Jerusalem was her wild ideas that it was a massacre rather than a dust storm that killed her immediate family when she was a young girl, claims that come with a hanging sentence. While her uncle thinks she's just making up the memories, Phryne finds evidence that she is telling the truth when she stands in for Shirin at a secret rendezvous with a mysterious "guardian angel".
Phryne investigates deeper with help from old flame Inspector Jack Robinson (Nathan Page), and Lord Lofthouse's dashing brother Jonathon (Rupert Penry-Jones), and they stumble on upon an old story about a huge gem buried in the desert by Alexander the Great. Of course, it's up to Phryne to navigate the deadly forces of ancient curses, shifting desert sands and dodgy aristocrats to work out who did what to whom with which implement in which room. She also has to decide exactly what she should do with Jack. Perhaps a kiss? Well, that might be giving away too much.
In a media release last year, producer Fiona Egger pitched the idea as "Indiana Jones meets Merchant Ivory" (think A Room with a View from 1985) with the feminist fun of Thelma & Louise. While you can see what she is hoping for, the film lacks the pace of the first, the style of the second and the gravitas of the third. Everything moves as if in slow motion, with director Tony Tilse and cinematographer Roger Lanser struggling to create energy, despite the efforts of the cast. John Waters (as Professor Linneaus) shines, along with Davis, but the screenplay from Deb Cox dishes up both dreadful dialogue and unlikely plotting. When you need a syrupy confessional flashback to explain everything in the final act, you know just how far you've come from Raiders of the Lost Ark.
Shot partially in Morocco, the film are some obvious issues matching the footage from desert exteriors to the studio-based work in Melbourne, and the wide desert shots look like add-ons to an otherwise dialogue-heavy television show, rather than part of cinematic work made for the big screen. But despite all the problems, fans will no doubt relish the outing, especially Margot Wilson's costume designs (her credits include The Dressmaker and The Proposition), with Phryne taking every opportunity to switch from leather flying togs to ball gowns and safari suits as she jumps, fences and shoots her way across the globe in search of answers.
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