Is Ms. Fisher’s Modern Murder Mysteries (2019) a Worthy Successor?

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For the infinite fans of Miss Fisher who are still waiting for the big-screen movie continuation of the story, there’s a digression to the 1960s with Ms. Fisher’s Modern Murder Mysteries, premiering on Acorn TV on April 29, 2019.

Set in 1963, it stars Geraldine Hakewill as Peregrine Fisher, Phryne Fisher’s long-lost niece. Young Peregrine is immediately established as flighty, sexually liberated, orphaned, and up for adventure, when she received a letter informing her that she’s inherited everything upon her aunt’s presumed death.

Ms. Fisher's Modern Murder Mysteries (2019)

Peregrine’s mother is Annabelle Fisher (1915-1963), referred to as (presumably the ashes in) a potted plant. In the novels, apparently Phryne Fisher has several sisters and not all are named, so it’s plausible that Annabelle could exist. When Peregrine heads to Melbourne to collect her inheritance, she says her mother called herself an “abandoned love-child.” The explanation Peregrine is given is that Phryne’s philandering father only confessed on his deathbed that Phryne had a half-sister, and every letter Phryne wrote to Annabelle was returned unopened. So there ya go.

Phryne’s old 1920s house has been turned into the headquarters of the Adventuresses’s Club, and the house that Peregrine inherits is a totally mod mid-century split-level deal with glass and stone. Plus she gets an new convertible sports car.

Ms. Fisher's Modern Murder Mysteries (2019) Ms. Fisher's Modern Murder Mysteries (2019)

The first episode drops her into a mystery set in a fashion show, and I’ll remind everyone that I don’t much care for the mystery genre, Miss Fisher-style or otherwise. This seemed as formulaic as with Essie Davis, so I’m not a great judge of that part of the story. The actors acquitted themselves well as far as introducing where they will all fit in the series though, and I think the ensemble works.

Ms. Fisher's Modern Murder Mysteries (2019)

She gets an obligatory love interest in Detective James Steed (Joel Jackson).

So let’s just look at the costumes then! 1960 shouldn’t be hard to do correctly because a) it’s within recent memory, b) there’s a ton of reference material readily at hand, and c) actual vintage clothing isn’t impossible to find, nor are costume rentals. And yet … Ms. Fisher’s Modern Murder Mysteries gets maybe a “C” average grade on historical accuracy here. Some scenes or outfits, will look perfectly period, and in the next moment, it falls to pieces. The look is woefully inconsistent.

Ms. Fisher's Modern Murder Mysteries (2019)

In general, the crowd scenes are the best, such as at the Blair’s Emporium department store. The shoppers have a great mix of late-’50s and early-’60s clothes, which makes it look realistic and not ridiculously high fashion. Lots of hats on both women and men, gloves and purses for the ladies, so rather proper.

It’s the main characters that tend to suffer. Maybe because they have more costume changes? Their hair is also lackluster, and that’s a pity because ’60s hair is so distinctive and fun. Again, some of the extras have cute beehives and flips (not crazy exaggerated ones, that wouldn’t be appropriate for this time and place). But the Adventuresses hair, in particular, is meh and rather modern.

Ms. Fisher's Modern Murder Mysteries (2019)

Compare this random secretary with her nice ’60s updo.

Ms. Fisher's Modern Murder Mysteries (2019)

To Florence Astor, one of the Adventuresses, with what Kendra would call ‘dental hygienist hair.’

Ms. Fisher's Modern Murder Mysteries (2019)

Peregrine’s flip is a better look.

Now, in my initial review of Miss Fisher, I pointed out that it was clear the series was working with a limited budget because some outfits and accessories looked modern and/or inexpensive. No doubt, these Australian productions aren’t getting the financial backing comparable to ITV’s Downton Abbey or HBO’s Gentleman Jack. I get it!  Costume designers have to work within the means they have. And at least Ms. Fisher isn’t pulling a Reign or Tudors by purposefully going with wacky fantasy modern clothes here. The modernisms are obviously attempts at 1960s styles that just miss the mark — and non-purists, people who aren’t dedicated Frock Flickers, probably won’t notice.

Ms. Fisher's Modern Murder Mysteries (2019)

There are at least four episodes available as of today, so even if you don’t have Acorn TV, maybe give it a free trial to check it out!

 

Have you seen Ms. Fisher? What do you think?

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17 Responses

  1. pat

    I’ve only seen the preview so far but I thought I saw pale blue nail polish–we didn’t have that in the 60s. Maybe it was some kind of plot thing, but still….

    Reply
    • Heidilea

      Wouldn’t it depend regionally? I seem to have found that people in rural areas dressed differently and had less access to things like that. I mean, both greenish yellow nail polish and black nail polish had a moment in the early 1930s, but it probably was only worn in urban areas or by trendy women. My mom talks about her white lipstick in the 1960s, but she grew up outside NYC.

      Reply
    • Heidilea

      I find I have to be really careful about “didn’t have X” when talking about what was available during our time on this earth—I know a lot of things weren’t available to me, nor did I hear of them, in the mid- and late-1990s when I was a teenager, but things like Law & Order from that time remind me that they were available in other places (internet, cell phones, certain fashion trends. When I learned purple and black nail polishes and lipsticks were a thing I was over the moon, but behind the trend).

      Reply
    • Fran

      Yes we did have pale blue nail polish and all the other colors including black and white!! I wore it all on my very own real 3/4” long nails. Juliette Marglen was the first to come out with these daring colors.😃

      Reply
      • Heidilea

        Oh how cool! I did a google search of her and found a image of a hand of multicolored nails (and hair!) from a 1959 Harpers Bazar. NEAT.

        Reply
    • Allison

      My grandmother told me she was never into nail polish but as early as the 40’s she had a friend who would wear green, blue and yellow nail polish to match her dresses after asking her about a 40’s nail polish ad I found and was confused to see those colors. This was in Baltimore, MD.

      Reply
  2. MoHub

    We need more distinction between the first and second halves of the decade, especially as the costumes shown seem to be mixing early ’60s hair with late ’60s clothing. I was born in 1951, so the ’60s were my formative years.

    Reply
  3. Susan Pola Staples

    Peregrine’s hair makes me think of Marlo Thomas in That Girl. I too wasn’t impressed by the photos from the show regarding clothes and hair for the principals. Even Call the Midwife, which I love, gets 1960s hair right. And Australia wasn’t that far behind the times. 1963 is a landmark year: Beatles, Stones, Lesley Gore, and Airplane.

    Reply
  4. James R Cashatt

    I have a hard time thinking that anyone can replace Essie as Miss Fischer. And the 1920s was the perfect setting. I wish they would bring back the orIginal series .

    Reply
  5. Jackie Pilkington

    Not impressed, there is only one Phrynie Fisher, roll on the movie.

    Reply
  6. daniel taylor

    The one thing phryne has is a junoesque figure. I believe that this sexy figure very very rare.

    Reply
  7. ctrent29

    Those costumes DO NOT reflect 1963. Did the series’ costume designer watched “X-MEN: FIRST-CLASS” one too many times?

    Reply
  8. Roxana

    James Steed? No doubt John Steed’s nephew. Leaving aside the fact Peregrine is a male name why not continue the theme by naming Phryne’s niece after another hetaira? Thais for example.

    Reply
  9. Allison

    I love all her outfits and would wear them for everyday, I enjoy dressing in full on 60’s outfits and makeup some days but yikes…her outfits are about 3-5 years too early for 1963. How does a mistake like this even happen? If they wanted her to have a mod look instead of the more prim early 60’s look why not just set the series in about 1966 instead?

    Reply
  10. Terry Towels

    Finally started watching, and I have to (very respectfully) disagree. I really love you guys, but this one– no.

    I was in my teens in the 60’s and sewed my own clothes (gotta make the best use of a clothes budget). The clothes on the show are very good. The hair is good. (The women of the adventuress’ club were of different eras, and I remember seeing all the 30’s 40’s and 50’s hair and dress styles represented every Sunday in church).

    This show is way more accurate than MadMen. Most people couldn’t afford the fashion-forward look. We wore clothes until they wore out. Or, grew out of, then they were passed down to the next size in line. I was reverse-lucky. My sisters, though younger, were all taller than me, so I got their hand-me-downs after they grew tall. I even wore my mom’s 40’s trousseau.

    My gripe is the nail polish. Nobody wore anything but shades of pink and peach (red and orange) nail polish. Every time I saw the nail polish (green, blue) matching the dress I cringed.

    Beehives were so big on some of the girls in my school that the camera had to pull way back to fit the hair in the picture, leaving teeny tiny faces in big big hair snort. So there can’t be enough exaggeration on the size of the hair (think Dolly Parton as a norm, not an aberration). Oh– and dental hygienist hair= 60’s gym teacher hair.

    The 60’s were a time of big, big change, as reflected in the clothes and styles. It was weird. Looking back, it was really weird.

    Reply
    • Terry Towels

      Oh, drat, forgot. My husband, also a teen in the 60’s thought the show was MADE in the 60’s. He also thought The Royal, a hospital show on britbox was made in the 60’s. So, accurate, I guess?

      Reply

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