Many of The Bitches were ardent fans of Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries, an Australian show which ran from 2012 – 2015. We loved it for the clothes, the characters, the clever writing, and the chemistry. Maya, Aarya, and I (CarrieS) waited for the movie Miss Fisher and the Crypt of Tears with great excitement, only to find that it was simply awful. The clothes, the characters, the chemistry, the humor – all vanished. Seldom has there been such a sad, sad waste of a beloved show as this empty, nonsensical and, worst of all, boring movie.
We gave this movie an F, and not a “So bad it’s good” F, or a “it’s so bonkers you can’t look away” F. There’s nothing fun about this F. It’s just bad. It lacks everything we love about the original and is moderately offensive as well as being boring.
We shared our notes as we went along and added further commentary once the madness had set in.
Maya: Soooo, some of the Phryne Fisher episodes did not handle interacting with other cultures well–I’m thinking, for example, that one time she shackled a Black man to her bed. Or like put shackles on him as part of sexy fun times? I can’t remember because I cringed so hard I suffered memory loss. So the opening with Phryne running through the streets of British Palestine in a (I think!) niqab makes me more than a little concerned!
OHHHHHHHH BOY, the script writing is weak. The one line Dot gets is some embarrassing nutshelling. I’m watching this with my best friend and she’s so mad that the script writing is so bad that she’s laughing at what Dot said while Dot is crying.
CarrieS: If we don’t get more Dot I will riot.
Note from CarrieS: We do not get more Dot. Hugh and Dot appear for one short scene, in which Hugh reminds Dot that she can’t travel because she is pregnant. She’s clearly ready to give birth at any moment but still looks surprised, like she only noticed she was pregnant because Hugh pointed it out. Farewell, Hugh and Dot. I’m furious on your behalf but you are better off out of this.
Aarya: For background, I’ve only seen the first two seasons of the original show (and I watched most of it in the last week!). I was skeptical initially but became invested by the end of season 1. Not that you need to see the entire TV show because this movie stands alone well. It’s bad, but it stands alone.
Re: Dot, it’s like they anticipated fan backlash if Dot/Hugh were absent entirely and fixed it by incorporating ONE MINUTE. That’s not how ANY of this works. I was so excited when I first saw Dot and then deflated when they went away.
The ONLY reason this movie exists is because of the fans. The fans funded a kickstarter. The fans petitioned and begged on social media. This movie should be 100% fan service and taking away Dot/Hugh is the opposite of fan service. Boo.
Maya: And there’s just as little from Bert and Cec, everyone’s favorite imaginary Australian communist organizers!
CarrieS: I was hoping for 90 minutes of Phryne and Jack making out, and I seem doomed for disappointment.
Note: I was super disappointed, that’s for sure. If you are here for Jack and Phryne kissing, just watch the last three minutes of the movie. By then, I was actually rooting for Jack to end up with someone, anyone, else.
We were all struck by how sociopathic Phryne is in this movie. She’s incredibly cruel and manipulative to Jack, far more than in the TV show. She was always manipulative in the show, but it was playful and they had a fairly equal balance of power with Jack having more institutional power and Phryne having more emotional leverage. In the film, she’s just cruel and callous.
Aarya: I can’t believe she was so cavalier with Jack’s feelings after her miraculous “survival.” In the first fifteen minutes, a newspaper reports her “death” and Jack travels to England to attend her memorial service. A la Tom Sawyer, Phryne interrupts the somber occasion and shocks everyone. Afterwards, she can’t understand why Jack is so upset and thinks that he’s overreacting.
Look, Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn are CHILDREN. Of course they’d think it’s funny to interrupt their own funeral (I can’t remember if they intentionally interrupted, but they were definitely excited at the idea of everyone mourning them). It’s certainly dramatic and funny that Phryne does something similar, but how can she not be gentle with Jack’s fury? The man travelled all the way from Australia so he could deliver a eulogy. Now is not the time to be snappy and rude.
Maya: I’m getting Eleanor Shellstrop vibes–which is to say my central critique of The Good Place is that essentially you have a white woman ending up in trouble that is of her own making and then demanding that all the people of color around her must save her.
CarrieS: But, unlike Phryne, Eleanor KNOWS she’s a shit. It’s her saving grace.
Maya: I think by the end of the last season, after she initially demands that Chidi stay with her in The Good Place and then realizes that it’s a selfish demand, is when she realizes exactly how shitty she is. She had spent her life (and death) saying I get to be shitty because my parents were shitty and everyone around me was shitty, but it took her like hundreds of lifetimes to get there. Which is ok! But the first season is hard for me on a rewatch!
Aarya: I adore Eleanor but I cannot disagree with Maya’s interpretation. It helps that the people of color around her are deeply flawed and selfish in their own ways (I mean, she still wants them to rescue her, but the power dynamics don’t feel as icky). At least Eleanor’s arc is one of growth. Phryne’s arc just seems cyclical; any positive character growth in the TV show is wiped away by the movie.
Maya: But yeah, I feel like whoever wrote Phryne this time thinks what Phryne is doing is feminism and it’s like nah, boo, she’s reproducing the patriarchy in ways that are harmful, she’s just got a cute haircut. She’s essentially gaslighting Jack and all his feelings about her being dead (allegedly). And she doesn’t, for a second, want to consider what harm her loved ones suffered because they thought she was dead. WHAT! OF! DOT?!
CarrieS: YES, SO MUCH THIS.
Aarya: Honestly, the entirety of my feelings can be summed up as “WHAT! OF! DOT?!”
Plus, you know, colonialism. But that’s another can of worms altogether.
Maya: OH MAN. It’s Egyptians and mummies and curses, is what we are doing.
Note from Maya: I cannot express how much I miss Melbourne. The TV show was as much about Australia recovering from WWI as it is about an independently wealthy flapper detective with a gun, and this globetrotting adventure that is missing so much specificity of place made me realize how central the depiction of Melbourne is to why I loved the TV show so much.
CarrieS: We started off in British Palestine, and now there’s mummies, and just as I was thinking “Maybe they’ll drag Asia in so no one goes unoffended” we get a jade sculpture that will be returned to China “on a slow boat.” It’s colonialism bingo. I’m happy that it’s anti instead of pro colonialism, but despite Phryne’s stated anti-colonialist stance, the movie is still portraying colonialism as a game played for our entertainment.
Maya: I mean we are still snatching cultural artifacts from other countries with no thought to it, so it’s not working as hard as I would like it to be anti-colonialist. Even Lara Croft has figured out that’s a bad look. And don’t forget that exceptionally weird moment when after a character refuses to shake the hand of the only Black person in the film, he tells a Bedouin man that all his people ever will be are “savages”!!
Aarya: I have a complicated relationship with media (books or film) that centers white Europeans during the age of empire. Don’t get me wrong — I love UK historical romance. As a young teen, I cut my romance-loving teeth on Judith McNaught, Lisa Kleypas, and Stephanie Laurens. But as I grew older and more aware of my country’s history, I developed a voice in my head that just yells “colonialism!” all the time.
It’s a difficult line to walk: I still read European historicals, but that voice is always present if muted. I am always aware of how these fictional aristocrats profit/benefit from the British Empire’s colonialism in real life. I can usually enjoy UK historical romance provided that it’s not set in India or something. That’s the point when the voice is screaming so loud that I can’t enjoy the book.
I swear this tangent has a point. When I was watching Miss Fisher And The Crypt Of Tears, that voice inside my head was dialed up to emergency siren levels. Carrie mentioned a Colonialism Bingo. And even though it’s anti-colonialist to a degree (yes, stealing another culture’s jewels is bad. What a new revelation!), the movie utilizes some common tropes that made me cringe. Here are some bingo squares:
- The Ugliest, Shiniest, and Largest Jewel As A Prop (seriously, why is this emerald so ugly? Did they spend the entire budget on clothes and forget that they needed to procure the cursed object that the entire plot rests upon?).
- Mixture Of Cultural Mythologies/Histories To Present As “Other” (somehow Alexander the Great, Zeus, mummies, and bees are all involved in this curse. Don’t ask. Not because I don’t want to tell you but because I don’t understand it.).
- Camels. So Many Camels Ambling Across Empty Desert.
- White Woman Uses Non-Western Clothing As A Disguise So She Can Cause Havoc and Mischief.
- White Woman Saves The Day By Solving Problem That Other White People Caused.
- White Woman Nearly Drowns In Quicksand In Empty Desert (fun fact: quicksand is not usually found in the desert).
- White Woman Marries Gay Maharaja So He Won’t Get Stoned to Death By His People (this is not a joke and I don’t have the energy to rant. What the actual fuck, Phryne?) (Maya: and then she just casually outs him to Jack without his knowledge or consent!!!!!!). (CarrieS: and if she was going to out him anyway, why didn’t she have this conversation with Jack in the first place?)
- White Woman… okay, you get the idea.
I’m not opposed to the concept of white people exploiting — ahem, exploring — other cultures. You can tell that the creators of the film were aiming for an Indiana Jones vibe; for the most part, they succeeded. But the predictable quality of these tropes is boring. At least come up with new othering imagery (I am joking)! Everything is a reiteration of a million movies that came before this one.
Outside of the confusing curse mythology, very little makes sense. Maybe that was the intention, but I require some sense in a plot.
Maya: WHY IS JACK TALKING TO THE WIFE OF THE DUDE THAT JUST DIED. He’s doing cop stuff, but he has no jurisdiction since he and Phryne are in England. Jack’s defining characteristic is that he plays by the rules and now he’s just not? AND NOW JACK’S DOWN TO PARTY. Apparently Jack is no longer terribly heartbroken over how Phryne treated him and is ready to go to a ball! Who is this man even?
CarrieS: Who are ANY of these people? At Phryne’s funeral the only character I recognized was Aunt Prudence. What happened to Jane? Why is Shirin bringing in a breakfast tray? When did our stubborn but deeply empathetic Phryne become a sociopath with boring clothes?
Maya: I mean, I just got to watch Phryne peer helplessly through a keyhole of a door she had just easily broken into like 10 minutes prior. So they can’t even keep her consistent between scenes.
I am deeply and utterly disappointed by the lack of LEWKS that we are getting from Phryne.
Carrie: Not a single memorable outfit and only one funny line.
Aarya: I think the fashion suffers because they left Australia. The fashion isn’t terrible, but it’s not as good as it could be. I wonder if they hired a costume designer with an expertise in North African/Middle Eastern* fashion. I would be willing to bet a lot of money that they didn’t.
* = I say a generic “North African/Middle Eastern fashion” because I’m not sure WHERE the movie is set in the end. It starts off in Jerusalem, then England, then… desert.
From here on out we had a lot of discussion about things like the convenience of unlocked drawers and murder weapons left on the lawn, and how Alexander the Great and Zeus got into this story, and our shared outrage at a prop that was so terrible and lazy that it caused us physical pain.
Maya: Best friend just said that they seem oddly proud of their camera work and this whole movie stinks of oddly proud.
And now the brown girl is going to save all these white people with her Brown Girl Magic.
CarrieS: Which is worse — White Savior Power or Brown Girl Magic?
Aarya: I don’t wanna decide!
Maya: It’s all lazy writing. UGHHHHH PHRYNE just “discovered” that the tattoo on Shirin’s hand is a map.
My best friend is currently making fun of the not-Greek on the top of the obelisk and then was like wait, why would it be in Greek? Somehow, best friend, Alexander the Great is mixed up in all this nonsense.
Aarya: Someone could make an argument that the melding of cultural mythologies is a byproduct of the Hellenistic period and how Greek culture spread across Africa and Asia after the death of Alexander the Great. The intermingling isn’t that unbeliev… Nah. I’m not going to make that argument because I expended more brain power to justify this nonsense than the screenwriters did. It’s bad, y’all.
CarrieS: Well, we have Brown Girl Magic saving White People and yet the Brown Girl is still subservient to the White Savior. “This land will always be full of ghosts, Miss Fisher. But thanks to you, it may live again.” I just threw up in my mouth a little.
At last our nightmare was over.
Aarya: It’s bad but also confusing-bad enough that I didn’t turn the TV off. Does that get points?
CarrieS: Well that was simply awful, and I never thought I’d say this but Jack deserves so much better.
Maya: We all do! What a disappointing travesty.
No one should watch this.
So there you have it, Bitches. They ruined Miss Fisher. How could they? We are angry. Thus concludes our review.