Firmly planted in the grand tradition of the British detective genre, Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries is a charming, if formulaic, series from Australian television. Set in the world of Melbourne in 1928, its breezy and witty approach to the genre lacks the edge of more serious television but is a fine way to waste an hour. The show has been based on the novels of a popular Australian author, Kerry Greenwood. The entire first series of thirteen episodes have been included for your enjoyment.
The entire series revolves around one woman, Phryne Fisher, lively played by Essie Davis. A thoroughly modern woman operating in the male world of 1928, her wealth enables her to play the part of self-proclaimed “lady detective.” She cuts a stylish figure, always lavishly dressed for the occasion and carrying her signature gold-plated gun in her purse. An independent and brave woman, she never takes ‘no’ for an answer while courageously going anywhere to solve her murder cases.
Its Fisher’s streak of independence that leads to constant conflicts with the local police, as Phryne Fisher always seems one step ahead of the bumbling police force. The one man she respects, Detective Inspector Jack Robinson (Nathan Page), becomes a sort of friendly rival in solving the crimes. There is a bit of romantic tension between the two leads but it does not begin to simmer until the final few episodes. Phryne Fisher is a single woman that likes pursuing younger men, often as a method in helping her solve the case.
Along the way, Phryne Fisher acquires a number of young wards under her care. Dot Williams (Ashleigh Cummings) becomes her sweet and timid young maid, after the events of one early case in the series. The proper and conservative Dot has all she can handle in Fisher’s household, as she quickly gets swept up in the cases and acts as Fisher’s closest companion. Dot is a very popular character in both the novels and the show, as there is a tentative romance between her and an inexperienced constable, Hugh Collins, that builds over the entire series.
The period setting looks fabulous and totally authentic, as the attention to detail for the Roaring Twenties period is uncanny. Phryne Fisher travels in wealthy circles and the show loves staging scenes in elaborate settings, from a Turkish bathhouse to the palatial estate of her Aunt Prudence. Production values are on par with the best shows of American television, and there is clear evidence some thought went into all aspects of the design. For Americans worried about possible Australian accents, it is never a problem. In fact, the accents sound vaguely American aside from a few specific local words and much better than the heavier accents in British television.
Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries does not re-invent the detective genre and lacks the edge of serious drama, but its lighthearted fare and witty repartee will find many followers. There is little mystery as to why PBS chose to broadcast it in America.
All thirteen episodes are generously spread out over 3 BD-50s, the complete first series for the show. The AVC video encode typically averages 18 Mbps per episode, which handles the relatively clean image most of the time with ease. There are a few blips along the way, especially a few examples of banding and chroma noise. Some of the darker scenes have a light layer of ISO noise that is not uncommon to digitally-shot productions, though most scenes are brightly lit to avoid that malady.
Framed in its likely native aspect ratio of 1.78:1, the video is presented in the interlaced format of 1080i. That choice does not pose much of a problem to the picture quality, but there are small indicators that a few scenes had problems with the frame-rate conversion from the original 25-frames-per-second footage. Aside from a handful of instances where possible combing artifacts rear their head, the average person is likely to entirely overlook the problem.
On the whole the picture quality is quite good, especially for a broadcast television production coming out of Australia. The stable contrast and neutral color palette produces naturalistic flesh-tones, rendering a healthy image. The camera loves to revel in close-ups, especially of the lead actors. That reveals a striking level of detail and resolution to the image, untouched by filtering or ringing. A high degree of clarity is backed by a pleasing level of sharpness, though the cinematography lacks the depth or dimensionality of theatrical features. Black levels are deep and inky, which will challenge displays not capable of the deepest black levels.
Phryne Fisher’s fans will have no qualms with the video quality or its presentation on this Blu-ray set. It is not demo material, but the gorgeous set design and opulent clothes are nicely showcased. Acorn Media has given the show an adequate transfer with satisfactory technical parameters.
The only audio option is a 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack. Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries is a broadcast television production and that is never more apparent than on the fairly timid and conservative soundtrack. Dialogue is clean and always intelligible, but the stereo mix does nothing out of the ordinary. The period music sounds decent but somewhat thin in quality. At times a viewer might mistake the soundtrack as a mono presentation, with the lack of punch and flat soundstage.
Acorn Media has included subtitles in the form of English SDH. They are displayed in a white font.
Acorn Media has rounded up a number of bonus features for the first season of Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries, all located on the third disc aside from a couple of trailers for other shows found on the first disc. While the extras are all presented in 1080i, it is apparent they are all sourced from standard-definition content and upscaled to that resolution. Some aliasing is present on all of the extra features due to the upscaling. A simple cardboard slipcover has been included that replicates the cover art.
The Look (19:01 in 1080i) – A solid behind-the-scenes featurette broken up into several different segments, all focusing on one specific aspect of the production. From the lavish costume design to the DP discussing his approach to the filming, this is an informative look into creating the series.
Meet the Creators (04:47 in 1080i) – Author Kerry Greenwood and two producers are interviewed about the show and how it came to be conceived.
Set Tour (03:38 in 1080i) – Author Kerry Greenwood gives a brief tour of the set, commenting on the opulent staging and set design.
Cast Interviews (08:36 in 1080i) – The four principal actors are each given a couple of minutes to talk about their characters and the show. Includes interviews with Essie Davis, Nathan Page, Ashleigh Cummings, and Hugo Johnstone-Burt.
Vehicles of the Series (02:06 in 1080i) – A brief featurette highlighting the vintage cars used on the show.
Steam Train Experts (01:29 in 1080i) – The steam train operators briefly give comments on their experience with the one episode which uses a steam train as its setting.
Locations of Melbourne (04:12 in 1080i) – On-set footage of the various locales used for filming in Melbourne, set to music.
Photo Gallery (2:00 in 1080i) – Some photos of the cast and settings of the show.
St. Kilda Tribune PDF – This is a bonus feature only accessible using a BD-ROM drive. It is a mocked up newspaper from 1928.
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