Nathan Davis and Essie Davis in Palm Springs.
The creators of Miss Fisher and the Crypt of Tears were always confident the movie would appeal to the legion of Essie Davis’ Phryne Fisher fans, but what about those who have never seen the TV series?
Any doubts soon vanished during the world premiere of the 1929-set adventure-murder mystery-romance, the first of three sold-out screenings at the Palm Springs International Film Festival.
Director Tony Tilse likened the atmosphere to a rock concert as 865 people whooped, hollered and laughed and gave a standing ovation at the end.
“People who had never seen the TV series told me how much they enjoyed it,” Tilse, who was set-up director on the series, tells IF. “The enthusiasm and love for the film was overwhelming and very humbling.”
Every Cloud Productions’ Fiona Eagger, who co-created the franchise based on Kerry Greenwood’s novels with screenwriter Deb Cox, tells IF that Miss Fisher fans from the US, Canada, the UK and Denmark attended the first screening, about 100 of whom dressed in 1920s attire.
Eagger says Cox consulted John Collee while she was writing the screenplay to help ensure the leap from the series to the big screen experience, aiming for a tone which she likens to Romancing the Stone and the Indiana Jones franchise, infused with a supernatural element.
“Emotionally the characters evolve and grow on screen from what they were on TV,” says Eagger. None more so than Phryne, a female superhero who refuses to stick to the rules.
Roadshow will release the movie co-funded by Screen Australia, Film Victoria, private investors, All3Media International and the Producer Offset, on 200-plus screens on February 27 following premieres in Sydney and Melbourne.
The producers raised more than $800,000 from investors in Australia and the US and $500,000 from a crowd-funding campaign. All3Media will initiate international sales after the Australian premiere.
Acorn TV, which pre-bought North American rights, plans a cinema release in about 12 US cities, targeting those with the biggest Phryne Fisher fan base, before it rolls out on Acorn’s streaming platform.
Shot in Morocco and Victoria with Roger Lanser as DOP, the film opens with Phryne rescuing Shirin Abbas, a young Bedouin girl (Australian newcomer Izabella Yena) from prison in Jerusalem. Shirin is traumatised by childhood memories of her village being massacred during the Great War.
The sleuth promises to help Shirin seek justice and they go to London to stay at a manor with Lord and Lady Lofthouse (Daniel Lapaine, Jacqueline McKenzie) and Lofthouse’s younger brother Jonathon (Rupert Penry-Jones).
When Phryne tries to discover the truth about Shirin’s village, the Lofhouse brothers, former soldiers, deny the massacre. However when Phryne and her estranged admirer, Inspector Jack Robinson (Nathan Page) witness the murder of an army deserter who gives Phryne an ancient, encrypted pendent moments before his death, they are convinced there is more to the story.
Reprising their roles are Ashleigh Cummings as Dorothy ‘Dot’ Collins, Miriam Margolyes as Aunt Prudence Stanley and Hugo Johnstone-Burt as Constable Hugh Collins.
The supporting cast includes John Stanton, William Zappa, Ian Bliss and Los Angeles-‐based Egyptian Kal Naga.
Costume designer Margot Wilson created 15 different looks for Phryne, plus embroidered robes, silver jewelry and breastplates with symbols designed to ward off evil spirits for the Bedouin women.
One challenge for Wilson was coming up with a dress which had a lot of gussets and culottes for a sequence in which the heroine jumps from a cliff onto a train and through windows and steals a motorbike.
Visual effects designer Scott Zero created more than 400 digital effects for the film, enhancing the big screen feel.
Eagger says of her heroine: “She can scale a building, speak many languages, dance a tango, drive a car and fly a plane. She used to work as an ambulance officer in the first World War.
“She can break all the rules to get what is right for the underdog in the world, and for the women of the world.”
Among the reactions on social media after the Palm Springs premiere:
Great fun! Adventure, intrigue, and their chemistry is off the charts!
A delightful romp, and perfect companion to the series.
We were there, fabulous!!!
Elizabeth Watt Michael:
Same here! 😊 The movie is wonderful, we were asked not to say anything about it…but it is very well done and true to the show 👍🏻 Everyone is really going to enjoy it❣️
The movie was fabulous— as are these two stars!! It was quite a premiere with so many in the audience in period finery!
If the movie is as big a success as the producers hope, Miss Fisher fans can look forward to a sequel – set in India.
Meanwhile Tilse, who was the set-up director on the third season of Hoodlum Entertainment/ABC’s Harrow, is preparing to shoot Mr Midnight, a supernatural horror series based on James Lee’s novels, for Singapore-based Beach House Pictures.