Watch­ing the de­tec­tive

Sunday Tasmanian - Tassie Living - - Front Page - TIM MARTAIN MISS FISHER’S MUR­DER MYS­TER­IES, ABC1, Fri­day, 8.30pm

ESSIE Davis’s wicked laugh sug­gests there may be just a hint of the feisty, self- as­sured Phryne Fisher lurk­ing be­neath the sur­face.

In­deed, the Tas­ma­nian- born ac­tress shows no hes­i­ta­tion in say­ing she rather ad­mires the lady de­tec­tive she plays in the new ABC1 se­ries Miss Fisher’s Mur­der Mys­ter­ies.

‘‘ There’s some­thing par­tic­u­larly mag­nif­i­cent about Phryne Fisher, she’s kind of this out­ra­geous su­per­hero who fights in­jus­tice wher­ever she sees it,’’ Davis says.

‘‘ She’s witty and ca­pa­ble, speaks mul­ti­ple lan­guages, [ is] fear­less, knows how to tango and shoot a gun, throw a dag­ger, fly a plane, [ is] an ad­vo­cate for the un­der­dog and women’s rights but also a lover of men. ‘‘ She’s just out there.’’ Based on the nov­els of Aus­tralian au­thor Kerry Green­wood, Miss Fisher’s Mur­der Mys­ter­ies fol­lows the ad­ven­tures of Phryne Fisher, a well- to- do lady in the 1920s who grew up on the rough streets of Colling­wood but now uses her means and in­flu­ence to help the Melbourne po­lice in­ves­ti­gate mur­ders.

A woman who would be con­sid­ered mod­ern and con­fi­dent, even by to­day’s stan­dards, Phryne is well ahead of her time.

‘‘ I think she’s fan­tas­tic. Ev­ery woman wants to be her, ev­ery man wants to, well, sleep with her,’’ Davis says.

‘‘[ The year] 1928 was this pe­riod af­ter World War I when ev­ery­one had been ac­quainted with the worst of grief and des­o­la­tion, while also be­ing be­fore the Great De­pres­sion, so there was a sense of re­ally seiz­ing life at the time.

‘‘ There also weren’t as many men around af­ter the war, so a lot of women didn’t get that op­por­tu­nity to get mar­ried and have that typ­i­cal life they were tra­di­tion­ally ex­pected to have and Phryne is grab­bing that op­por­tu­nity.

‘‘ She went from an ex­tremely poor back­ground to in­her­it­ing mas­sive wealth and ti­tles, so she has a great sense of gen­eros­ity and she’s happy to spend money and go to par­ties and live life to fullest.’’

While the se­ries has the struc­ture of a clas­sic mur­der mys­tery – a la Poirot or Miss Marple – the re­veal- the- mur­derer- in- the- draw­ing- room style is wrapped up in an ex­te­rior that is dis­tinctly Aus­tralian.

Each episode delves into a dif­fer­ent part of 1920s Melbourne, main­tain­ing a light­hearted and good- hu­moured feel. Davis, 42, said it was great to see a strong fe­male char­ac­ter on­screen.

‘‘ Peo­ple love strong women char­ac­ters. But she’s not strong and mean, she’s strong and fab­u­lous and I think that’s the key,’’ she said.

‘‘ That clas­sic ABC au­di­ence that loves their Bri­tish mur­der mys­ter­ies will love it be­cause of those sim­i­lar­i­ties but there’s some­thing to ap­peal to new au­di­ences as well.

‘‘ And while I’ve made her my own, she’s still def­i­nitely the Phryne from the books. It’s very im­por­tant with books that you are re­ally true to the char­ac­ter be­cause so many peo­ple are in love with that char­ac­ter al­ready.’’

Phryne Fisher is not just a del­i­cate wall­flower look­ing for clues, she is an im­pul­sive cru­sader who is just as likely to find her­self scal­ing build­ings or pulling a gun on a bad guy.

Davis ( pic­tured) em­braced the chance to in­habit the heroine’s thrilling life just that lit­tle bit more.

‘‘ I did all the stunts they would let me, as many as I could, but there were a few things they wouldn’t let me do,’’ she said.

‘‘ It’s quite tricky run­ning across a roof in the rain with high heels on, you know! I did end up with some cracked rib car­ti­lage, a cou­ple of sprained an­kles, and we had to get very in­ven­tive about try­ing to shoot scenes around me limp­ing.’’

A Bel­lerive girl and for­mer Rosny Col­lege stu­dent, Davis has now starred in three bookto- tele­vi­sion adap­ta­tions in the past 18 months, in­clud­ing Tim Win­ton’s Cloud­street and The Slap by Chris­tos Tsi­olkas.

She tries to get home to Ho­bart’s East­ern Shore as of­ten as pos­si­ble.

‘‘ Yeah, I got to visit Tassie for Christ­mas,’’ she says. ‘‘ It was only two weeks, and I’d have loved a lit­tle longer, but it was great be­ing able to spend time with my fam­ily.’’

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