Other Media Review

Movie Review: Miss Fisher and the Crypt of Tears

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.

Phryne and Jack in the desert

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.

After three seasons, I say less looking, more kissing!

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.

Phryne in aviator gear
Phryne lands a plane in the middle of her funeral, as one does.

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.

Phryne with a camel.

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!

Little girl asks, "Why don't we have both?"

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.

Add Your Comment →

  1. 1
    Venetia says:
    2+

    I was a bit dubious about the title and the non-Australian setting but hey, it’s Miss Fisher!

    And this does not sound like Miss Fisher … eugh. How could they?!

  2. 2
    Msb says:
    1+

    Well, it’s nice to know I don’t have to try to see this.
    The original series turned me on to the books, which I love. But the more books I read, the more disappointed I got with the series. Yes, the guy playing Jack is very pretty and actors are expensive, but where is Lin Chung? Only Phryne could outrage local morality by taking lovers and then “settle down” in a ménage a trois with a man whose race would outrage even more people. But the series quickly matches her with a white guy.
    Where is the overt feminism of the books? Not “family friendly” enough for TV? Back to my bookshelf …

  3. 3
    Jeanne says:
    1+

    Ah, that’s just a shame. In all honesty, I see the problem with some of the episodes (as mentioned here) and am not overly fond of season 3, which felt very rushed, but I really, really love the series. The movie sounded like fun to me, but the way you describe it, there is just too much yikes in it for me.

    Phryne walks a thin line during the original series too, but as Carrie says, her empathy usually carries the day. She genuinely cares about the people around her and is not wilfully cruel. How could they mess this up?

    Also, one of the main selling points of the show for me was her relationship with Jack. I honestly feel these two complement each other so well. Reading how their relationship is handled in the movie made me angry, and I haven?t even seen it. Sigh.

    Sorry for rambling, and thank you for watching it so I don’t have to. I’ll just rewatch the series, I think.

  4. 4
    The Other Kate says:
    1+

    Pretending this doesn’t exist, stat!

    Thanks for the warning.

  5. 5
    Big K says:
    1+

    Ditto. It never happened. Going to watch the series again and knit. Such a disappointment. Thank god I read this before I tried to watch this.

  6. 6
    JaniceG says:
    1+

    I am a big fan of the books and never did get too into the series, although I thought the casting was very good. One of the main things I admire about the book series is that Jack is happily married and he admires Phryne *solely for her talents in solving crimes* and not because there is some simmering romance going on. I was very disappointed that the TV show decided to go in the tired direction of so many mystery series where the amateur female detective is tolerated/involved with murder investigations because she is romantically involved with a police officer or detective.

  7. 7
    LB says:
    1+

    Oh no! I was so looking forward to this and now I don’t know what to do with myself. Read more books, I guess. 🙁

  8. 8
    John says:
    1+

    Just want to note this review should probably have a spoiler warning since part of the final season of The Good Place is also spoiled within the review…otherwise it’s great, and I’m so sad it turned out to be disappointing. 🙁 One has to wonder how they got this so wrong.

  9. 9
    Trix says:
    1+

    I was wondering why I’d heard so little mention of this as the release date got closer, and now I know. Ick. Also, don’t try to console yourselves with the ill-advised spinoff MS. FISHER’S MODERN MURDER MYSTERIES, the made-for-TV adventures starring heretofore unknown niece Peregrine Fisher in the ’60s. The plots are nonexistent (with the occasional cloddish political incorrectness thrown in as usual), and Peregrine is the textbook TSTL incarnation. She tampers with crime scenes and evidence CONSTANTLY (as does bland, inexplicably smitten Detective Steed–smirky Avengers reference ahoy!). Meanwhile, mere days after meeting her, all of Phryne’s acquaintances proclaim Peregrine’s brilliance to every skeptical man and authority figure they see, just because she’s Phryne’s niece. The clothing and sets look cheap, too. Louisa Mignone is a bright spot as the scientist Violetta, but can’t save this. I don’t even know if Kerry Greenwood gets a dime from this one…take it and run.

  10. 10
    Gail says:
    1+

    I agree a lot and was sadly disappointed. Clothes are gorgeous, some of the scenery beautiful. A couple of good quips, all of which are in the trailer. Absence of the other cast very sad. Not much of a mystery. So sad.

  11. 11
    Barb in Maryland says:
    1+

    I loved the books, tolerated the series because of the clothes, Melbourne, and the actors were pretty good. I shall now ignore the movie.
    Thank you to CarrieS, Maya and Aarya for watching this so we don’t have to.

  12. 12
    TamB says:
    1+

    I think this movie suffered because it was fan created. It was as if there was a survey of “what do the fans want” and the top two things were Phyrne’s clothes and Jack. So that was what was focused on and the rest was made to fit. Or forgotten.

    Phyrne has about three wardrobe changes in the opening scenes and not one of them is in any way subtle (for sneaking about) or practical in any way. I wondered why anyone would have a sequin face covering to “hide” when plain black would do, but apparently logic wasn’t one of the considerations.

    I don’t know why there was a need to go to “London” or anywhere else, especially considering the actors weren’t given the memo and accents were still very much Australian.

    This could have been the start of a series reboot with movie length investigations but it failed dramatically.

  13. 13
    Juli Thompson says:
    1+

    Years ago, probably around 2005, I tried to read one of the books, because of the Gilbert & Sullivan title. I’m pretty sure it was Ruddigore. I couldn’t finish it. The plotting felt heavy handed, the racism was appalling ( and I wasn’t very aware back then) and the characters seemed like idiots. Then a couple years ago everyone was raving about the TV show. I tried 2atching an episode and it seemed worse than I remembered. And now this. I will assume there is something worthwhile in the mess, because so many people liked it, but it didn’t work for me at all.

  14. 14
    Joce says:
    2+

    F seems harsh
    I enjoyed the movie for what it was – eye candy 🙂
    The books are the best but I enjoyed the TV series even though they changed a lot of the stories (Jack, the missing sister, the aunt etc) because its fun seeing Australian stories on the screen.
    The movie is very light as its not based on the books and it does have an Indiana Jones feel (the whole married to the maharajah had very unfortunate Temple of Doom vibes) but it is very pretty.

  15. 15
    Adrienne says:
    1+

    This review really hit the nail on the head as to why I was disappointed in the movie, even beyond the problematic handling of so many issues that came along with the movies setting and premise. So much of the charm and fun and genuine emotion from the show was missing. I really get like they retconned a lot of Phryne’s character growth and the romantic developments she and Jack had finally made by the end of the show.

  16. 16
    G. says:
    3+

    I wish I’d read this review before watching. It was horrible. Sure, the TV series had it’s flaws, but the movie is straight up terrible. A word of advice for other fans: if you haven’t seen it, don’t; rewatch the series instead.

  17. 17
    Pam says:
    1+

    I was sooo excited! I even kicked my family out of the room to watch it in uninterrupted peace.

    Phryne is girlish, Jack is just diminished. The clothes look as though she borrowed them last minute for a trip she didn’t know she was going to take. A bright red outfit for a jail break?! And the wig..THE WIG! Atrocious and lazy. My disappointment was on par with the entire Game of Thrones finale within 10 minutes.

  18. 18
    Sameera says:
    1+

    she got married with Maharaja. Then why she called ‘miss’?

  19. 19
    rebecca says:
    2+

    THIS! thank you! i’ve been looking for rants about the movie since no one around me watches this show and this was basically everything i thought was wrong with the movie. The plot was shit and dot had barely any screentime. if that was their intention they could’ve made a plot with the character arc’s already established in the series. for instance, the movie begins with years having passed since dot has disappeared. its been years since any leads and no one has come forward yet. collins is distraught since he was with dot during a carnvial when this happened and can’t seem to let it go and now considers himself an incompetent detective. phryne is equally grief stricken but no one knows it since she spends her days partying and going on random adventures which drives her and jack apart since he couldn’t believe that this is how she would choose to respond to dot’s death. she has secretly been working on the case for years and carefully selects the people she ‘party’s with since she believes her disappearance is part of a bigger conspiracy. and with this you have a relevent plot, a mystery, a character arc since it comes full circle with her sister’s disappearance and a reason for less screentime for dot and a conflict between the main love interests. thank you for coming to my ted talk xD

  20. 20
    Nancy Collins says:
    2+

    Okay, you guys – simmer down! Yes, the plot was weak, the outfits were not as smashing as in the series, and we did not get to see more of Dot, Hugh, Bert and Cec. But the ending implied that Jack and Phryne were finally going to get together!! ( When she started pulling his suspenders down – my heart skipped a beat or two – or three. Sigh!) And when Phryne told Jack that the only thing that she was afraid of was spiders, and Jack said that she was afraid of her feelings for him…..and that she might end up a policeman’s wife…..and then they both talked about when they lost their hearts to each other….OMG….I just had to wipe away a tear or two -or three. Sigh! I would watch Phryne and Jack read the phone book together!

  21. 21
    chacha1 says:
    1+

    “Farewell, Hugh and Dot. I’m furious on your behalf but you are better off out of this.”
    “this movie stands alone well. It’s bad, but it stands alone.”
    “We are angry.”

    I never read the books nor watched the series … my tolerance for amateur sleuths is verrrry low … but I will always be here for the rants. 🙂

  22. 22
    Lisa says:
    1+

    Okay, I’m late to the game but finally had time to sit down and watch this and…I am disappointed but resigning myself since it seems like the film Phryne Fisher deserved & we all wanted was maybe never meant to be. Our Dot was busy being the lead of NOS4A2 and had to fly halfway across the world to shoot the one scene she was in, and had to fly back right away; the budget ($8m) was a pittance for a period piece, the cinematography left a lot to be desired, and the script was so confusing I wonder if someone got too carried away with the editing to get the film I just saw.
    But the main problem IMO is that without Dot, so much of the charm and *structure* of the show & books we love goes away—because with her goes Hugh…and for some reason Bert, Cess, Mr. B and Jane (all hopefully tending to Dot, I guess?). I’m glad they didn’t try to replace her character but she was sorely missed.
    I completely agree with the racism, which was jolting for what we’ve come to expect from the show, even the books. All in all it seems like they wanted to make this accessible to non-fans but from the start I had no idea who any of the Brits were, or why they should put on her memorial, and it was hardly explained! I understood so little of who the players were in relation to Phryne that the ultimate reveal of the main villain was both too obvious and confusing AF. This is the one film where I needed MORE exposition. NTM where TF was Phyrne the whole time she was “dead” anyway? Did I miss one line somewhere that was supposed to explain how she spent that time? The archaeology/history was confusing AF, there’s way too many boring white men to keep them straight, SO many shots of camels, and *why* are the same men in the murder/theft conspiracy (her suspects) the ones throwing the memorial, *and* they not only know but are hosting her clients (the sheik & niece)?? I truly wonder what was cut from the final version, because how we wound up with so much plot confusion and so many camel scenes is a mystery.

    I really wanted this to be so good, especially after the terrible mess that was the Mod-niece-spin-off. Even Essie Davis deserved better—she does Phryne so well I can’t imagine anyone else in the role. I know we won’t get a second movie after this but we all should have gotten so much better. I know they had little to work with and I’m sure everyone tried hard, but I’m just bummed by what we got.

  23. 23
    Lisa says:
    1+

    Oops—I meant to say I agreed with the *comments* about the film’s racism! Ugh, head:desk.

  24. 24
    Diane Belknap says:
    1+

    I too was really looking forward to the movie and absolutely amazed at how awful it was. I think I lasted to the end of the funeral scene and had to turn it off. Not only was the writing bad, but the production was just horrible. My husband and I are big fans of the TV series and really wanted to like the movie. We had tickets to see it in the theater before Covid-19 struck and are so glad we didn’t make the effort. So disappointed!

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