(L-R) Daniel Lapaine, Jacqueline McKenzie, Nathan Page and director Tony Tilse on set in Victoria.
The relationship between Essie Davis’ Phryne Fisher and Nathan Page’s Jack Robinson breaks new ground in Miss Fisher and the Crypt of Tears.
That’s according to Tony Tilse, who directed Every Cloud Productions’ murder-mystery/adventure/romance, which premieres in Australian cinemas on February 27.
“The lovely tension between Phryne and Jack is always there but the two of them on screen together is just magic in a way we haven’t seen before,” Tilse tells IF.
“Nathan is fantastic, absolutely up there with Essie’s performance level. It’s beautiful to watch.”
Tilse, who was the set-up director of Ms Fisher’s Murder Mysteries, was the natural choice by producer Fiona Eagger and scriptwriter/executive producer Deb Cox
to helm the feature.
“After the third series we started talking about the movie as a way to continue the franchise,” he says. “The aim was to make a stand-alone film which would appeal equally to Phryne Fisher fans and those who’d never seen the series.
“The script went through many machinations after the first draft, mainly to do with the availability of the actors who played the characters in the series.”
The plot follows Miss Fisher as she frees young Bedouin girl Shirin Abbas (2016 VCA graduate Isabella Yella), who had been unjustly imprisoned in Jerusalem. The stylish sleuth then begins to unravel a WW1 mystery involving a priceless jewel, ancient curses and the disappearance of Shirin’s tribe.
Phyrne’s search takes her to London where she stays with Lord and Lady Lofthouse (Daniel Lapaine, Jacqueline McKenzie) and Lofthouse’s younger brother Jonathon (Rupert Penry-Jones).
Reprising their roles are Ashleigh Cummings as Dorothy ‘Dot’ Collins, Miriam Margolyes as Aunt Prudence Stanley and Hugo Johnstone-Burt as Constable Hugh Collins.
A huge fan of Davis, Tilse says: “She has a really clear idea about the character. She owns Phryne. She always comes up with ideas, saying ‘let’s try this or that.’ It’s all done collaboratively with Deb and Fiona and myself.”
Essie Davis in Bedouin costume and crew on set in Morocco (Photo credit: Ben King).
Tonally, Tilse was looking for a similar sort of sensibility to the old-fashioned Hollywood action-adventures which used to screen in cinemas as Saturday matinees.
It was Tilse’s first feature after directing multiple TV shows including Harrow, Wolf Creek, the Underbelly franchise, East of Everything, Farscape and Crownies.
He found it an easy transition, observing that the lines between cinema and TV drama have been increasingly blurred. His frequent collaborator, DOP Roger Lanser, who shot the series, had plenty of experience in features.
Lanser worked on Kenneth Branagh’s earliest films including Much Ado About Nothing and Peter’s Friends as well as Dean Murphy’s Strange Bedfellows, Charlie & Boots and the upcoming The Very Excellent Mr Dundee.
Filming in the desert of Morocco gave them plenty of scope, interrupted one day when a fierce sandstorm struck. Ironically, the next day they had to use a wind machine to re-create the sandstorm.
The producers initially considered shooting in Jerusalem but chose Morocco, not least for the opportunity to film on the sets of old Jerusalem where Ridley Scott filmed Kingdom of Heaven, and a crater on the fringe of the Sahara desert where The Mummy was shot, and to draw on the expertise of the local crew.
The creative team was both relieved and much encouraged by the responses from audiences at the three sold-out screenings at the Palm Springs International Film Festival.
“The fans cheered, laughed and clapped,” Tilse says. “It’s a really good, tight, one-and-a-half-hour rollicking adventure which goes like a rocket.”
If the movie is as big a success as the producers hope, fans can look forward to a sequel. Cox has hinted it could be set in India during the British Raj while Tilse likes the idea of filming in Shanghai.