Miss Fisher and the Crypt of Tears

Jacob Richardson | 01/03/2020

Beautiful costuming can not an interesting film make.

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Phryne Fisher (Essie Davis) - an Australian-born private detective with a penchant for class and adventure - rescues a young girl from unjust imprisonment in Jerusalem, but seemingly perishes in the process. Detective Inspector Jack Robinson (Nathan Page) flies to the Lofthouse manor, where Jonathan (Rupert Penry-Jones), Eleanor (Jacqueline McKenzie) and Lofty (Daniel Lapaine) are hosting a memorial service for Phryne; a memorial sevrice that is unceremoniously crashed by the surviving Phryne herself. Upon her arrival, Phryne, along with the young girl she saved and her at times spurned love interest Jack Robinson, try to uncover the mystery of what happened to the young girl’s massacred town. 


The craft of costuming in Australia is frequently praised, and top of its game. Looking to films like The Dressmaker or anything from Baz Luhrman, one can see a bonafide talent in the industry that rivals if not surpasses yankee counterparts in the glitzy realms of Hollywood. Miss Fisher and the Crypt of Tears adds to this legacy, with Phryne frequently clad in some incredible outfits befitting such a larger than life figure. 


So too does Essie Davis’ performance outstrip the quality of the rest of this film. Davis is fun, flighty and formidable - bringing a sense of vitality and life to material that would cripple a lesser actor, and indeed does cripple a number of the extended cast of this piece. She delivers the clunky dialogue that hamstrings the rest of the performers with a believability that this movie doesn’t deserve, and somehow creates a facade of believability and thrill-seeking actionability that mimics, in some respects, a Daniel Craig Bond film. 


Alas, there the plaudits must end, because Miss Fisher and the Crypt of Tears is largely a pointless exercise in banality that feels like a late-80’s TV show projected on a cinema screen. Largely, the action is toothless and fake, the performances are halting and stilted, the dialogue is unbelievable in the extreme and the effects and cinematography feel unfinished and unconvincing. 


All of this combines to create a distinctly unfinished and rushed feeling to the film. In particular, the cinematography on hand here fails to create any sort of atmosphere. Everything is lit extremely brightly, giving a studio effect that belies any potential for believability. It also makes the magnificent manor setting feel claustrophobic and old. The cinematography also makes some of the model work clearly evident - an early train scene seems laughably fake, because the brightness and lack of atmos. 


In the end, Miss Fisher and the Crypt of Tears fails to justify its own existence. What it does in terms of testifying to the capability of Davis and the Australian costuming industry, it fails to do in crafting an intriguing, compelling and engaging mystery. 


Despite her detective status, alas, Phryne Fisher can’t find a good movie in this mess of antiquated parts.