Joel Jackson and Geraldine Hakewill.
Director Fiona Banks is tired of watching shows which depict women as victims, back-stabbers or characters who are pitted against each other.
So she was thrilled when she was offered Ms Fisher’s Modern Murder Mysteries, Every Cloud Productions’ spin off of the ABC series which starred Essie Davis as Phryne Fisher.
“The thing that drew me to the show from the word go is the genuine friendships between the women,” says Banks, who served as the set-up director for the first time in her illustrious career.
“These women support and encourage each other. These are good strong relationships. They are not always in agreement with each other and there is lot of humour and strength of character.”
Created by Fiona Eagger and Deb Cox and produced by Beth Frey, the four telemovies are set in 1964 and follow Geraldine Hakewill as Peregrine Fisher, who takes on the mantle of lady private detective from Phryne Fisher, the aunt she never knew.
In the first episode which screens on the Seven Network at 8.30 pm on February 21, Peregrine teams up with a club of feisty women known as The Adventuresses and goes undercover at a department store to solve the murder of Barbie Jones, a glamorous model who is found perched on a wedding cake prop during a fashion parade.
Joel Jackson is Detective James Steed, a smart, ambitious cop who is attracted to Peregrine and drawn into her mad plans. Catherine McClements is Birdie Birnside, a former member of WW2 Special Forces who is the president and mastermind of The Adventuresses.
Toby Truslove is Birdie’s brother Samuel, who is drawn into the club after the death of his wife in a car accident two years ago. Louisa Mignone is Violetta Fellini, the daughter of Calabrian immigrants who fled her Mobster-connected fiancé and has an awkward relationship with Samuel.
Rounding out the regulars are Greg Stone as chief superintendent Percy Sparrow, a corrupt cop who is James’ boss and Birdie’s nemesis, and Katie Robertson as constable Fleur Connor. The guest cast includes Libby Tanner and Heather Mitchell. The scripts were written by Cox, Samantha Winston, Chelsea Cassio and Jo Martino.
Libby Tanner and Geraldine Hakewill.
Banks was keen to cast Hakewill after admiring her work in Seven’s Wanted, observing: “She is such a chameleon. I had been watching a lot of 60s romantic comedies starring Audrey Hepburn and thought it would be wonderful to have a Hepburn-esque feel to this character. Geri channelled my thinking and had this beautiful, gentle joy and energy. She was a total stand-out.”
She rates Jackson as the epitome of the 60s sophisticated leading man, a very hard worker who has loads of charisma.
While the series carries the Fisher brand, Frey says: “It does need to stand alone. It’s a different era so it came with a lot of different freedoms and places we could go.”
Banks says: “My job was to go with the story and characters and deliver the best possible world. I did not feel compelled to hold a mirror or replicate (the original).”
Eagger says she and Cox chose the 1964 setting as it was a time of huge social change as more women joined the workforce, the contraceptive pill came out and sexual liberation was underway.
It was Banks’ first commercial free-to-air assignment in several years after directing episodes of Wentworth, Jack Irish, The Doctor Blake Mysteries and Mustangs FC.
The creative team is keen to continue the Ms Fisher journey. “We would love to see it go again,” says Frey. “There are lots of opportunities for where we could take the characters and the show, as more telemovies or a series.”
Acorn TV pre-bought the US rights to the series and the theatrical movie Miss Fisher & the Crypt of Tears from the distributor All3Media International. The producers are delivering two versions: the telepics and 8 X 1 hours. The investors include Screen Australia, Film Victoria and Fulcrum Media Finance.
Banks’ next project is Hoodlum Entertainment/10’s drama Five Bedrooms created by Michael Lucas and Christine Bartlett, joining fellow directors Peter Templeman and Corrie Chen.
Two weeks ago the producers assembled the directors and writers to set the tone for the show. She looks forward to working with the cast led by Kat Stewart, Stephen Peacocke, Doris Younane, Katie Robertson, Roy Joseph, Kate Jenkinson and Hugh Sheridan.